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Wednesday, 28 April, 1999, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Police openness urged on cell deaths
Police cell
Relatives want information before the inquest
Police have been urged to be more open with relatives of people who die in their custody.

New Home Office guidelines say families should now receive documentary evidence about the death before the official inquest.

The move follows a recommendation in Sir William Macpherson's report into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Joy Gardner, who died in police custody in 1993
Joy Gardner, who died in police custody in 1993
The lack of information before inquests has been a long-standing complaint of relatives, who say it makes it difficult for lawyers to challenge the police version of events or question their actions.

Home Office Minister Paul Boateng acknowledged that the practice of not disclosing evidence before the inquest was damaging confidence in the police.

He said: "It has given rise to unfounded suspicion that matters are being deliberately concealed by the police.

"We are therefore advising chief officers that there should be as great a degree of openness as possible."

The guidelines will cover cases of deaths in police detention or those which resulted from the actions of a police officer.

Move welcomed

Campaign group Inquest said the move was a "step forward" on a very important issue.

Inquest co-director Helen Shaw said the lack of information meant families sometimes heard about their loved ones' last hours in a room full of lawyers and the general public, which only added to their distress.

But she warned the guidelines were still only voluntary, and said a change in the law may be necessary to ensure that all information was disclosed to families.

Some 6% of deaths in custody involve restraints or a violent struggle with officers. Other deaths in custody are linked to drinking and drugs in 40% of cases, and suicide in 25% of cases.

Many of the most controversial deaths in custody when police restraints were used involved people from ethnic minorities.

The cases of Joy Gardner, Brian Douglas, Wayne Douglas, Ibrahima Sey and Roger Sylvester have kept the issue high-profile.

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