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Friday, March 27, 1998 Published at 12:52 GMT


Prison boss in race row
image: [ Alton Manning, 33, died of asphyxia ]
Alton Manning, 33, died of asphyxia

The head of the Prison Service has sparked outrage by claiming black people are genetically more likely to die than whites when they are restrained.

Richard Tilt made the remark after a jury ruled that black prisoner Alton Manning was unlawfully killed while in custody.

He suffocated while being restrained by prison officers at the privately run Blakenhurst jail in Worcestershire in 1995.

An inquest jury heard that Manning was carried by six guards while a seventh held his neck so tightly that blood poured from his mouth.

Seven officers were suspended following the incident.

[ image: Richard Tilt is 'concern' at the outrage his remarks have caused]
Richard Tilt is 'concern' at the outrage his remarks have caused
The Director General, later said: "Afro-Caribbean people are more likely to suffer positional asphyxia than whites."

He said it may be related to sickle cell disease, which mainly occurs in black people, afflicting about one in 100.

He said six of the seven people who have died in British prisons while being restrained since 1992 were black.

His comments were related to research conducted by forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd.

Scientists say "no clear link"

But Dr Shepherd told the BBC that of the seven cases of people who died in custody, only one had sickle cell disease.

He said people suffering from the condition may be more susceptible to asphyxia when they are held in a certain position and pressure is put on their windpipe.

"I do not think there is a clear link. There is a possibility, something we have flagged up to the police service and the prison service, as being an area of concern." he said.

Other experts said they had never seen any research suggesting that ethnic minorities were particularly vulnerable to the condition.

Dr Nat Carey, a pathologist researching positional asphyxia, said: "I am very surprised that such a suggestion should be made."

Calls for resignation

Maxie Hayles, an activist who organised the Alton Manning Justice Campaign, called for the Director General to resign.

He said: "Comments like this merely perpetuate negative stereotypes about black people and the worrying thing is, he is in such a position of authority."

Deborah Coles of the pressure group Inquest said she would demand an apology for his remarks.

"This is absolutely without any scientific basis whatsoever. It's reminiscent of the sort of scientific racism we used to get in the last century," she said.

Prison head "concerned" over upset

Mr Tilt expressed "concern" at the uproar caused by his claims.

The Prison Service released a statement saying Mr Tilt was "greatly concerned" about any upset his comments might have inadvertently caused.

It also said research had been commissioned following cases like that of Dennis Stevens, who died under restraint at Dartmoor in 1995.

"Medical evidence in this case pointed to Mr Stevens's having the sickle cell trait as being a contributory factor to his death.

"A Prison Service study into restraint-related deaths identified a number of factors, some physiological, which could contribute to positional asphyxia."

David Wilson, the former head of officer training in the Prison Service said he believed the real problem was uncontrolled use of "control and restraint" techniques and institutionalised racism in the criminal justice service.

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