Brixton meeting over death in police custody

Ian Taylor

Members of the Brixton community are being urged to attend a meeting in Lambeth town hall tomorrow (7 July) evening to hold the Metropolitan police to account for the death of a man they were holding.

Ian Taylor, a 54 year-old Black British Rastafarian with severe asthma died in Coldharbour Lane after suffering a cardiac arrest on 29 June 2019.

Police did not take him to hospital, despite knowing an ambulance was delayed.

A coroner’s jury found on 20 May this year that his death was caused by acute asthma and situational stress, alongside two underlying health conditions, with dehydration as a further contributing factor.

They also found that he died in part because the police’s assessment of the risks to him were not adequate.

The coroner said he would refer one of the officers involved to the Independent Office for Police Conduct for further investigation.

Mr Taylor, who had previously been hospitalised with severe asthma, pleaded for help as he became very short of breath while under arrest.

An ambulance was called but was severely delayed. Despite repeatedly telling the all-white police officers that he could not breathe and was going to die, Mr Taylor was left lying on the street on one of the hottest days of the year without an inhaler, water or medical assistance.

The court heard expert evidence that Mr Taylor’s respiratory rate – measured using body-worn video footage – was between 30 and 40 breaths per minute.

Any respiratory rate of over 30 breaths per minute is considered to be a medical emergency. Although the police are trained to measure the respiratory rate and vital signs of people suffering from asthma in order to assess the severity of their condition, the officers responsible for monitoring Mr Taylor did not do this.

One officer was captured on body worn video footage fetching water for herself from one of multiple plastic water bottles in a police car.

When asked at the inquest why she did not offer any of the bottles to Mr Taylor, she stated that this water “belonged to other officers”.

Speakers at the meeting, which begins at 6.30pm, will include local MP Helen Hayes, Dr Mahamed Hashi, Lambeth council cabinet member for safer communities, and Ian Taylor’s aunt, Pauline Taylor.

Local Met Chief Superintendent Colin Wingrove will also speak, as will Marcia Rigg of the Sean Rigg Justice Campaign. Her brother Sean died in police custody, also of a cardiac arrest, at Brixton police station in 2008.

The meeting will be chaired jointly by Pastor Lorraine Jones of Dwaynamics, who is chair of the Independent Advisory Group for Lambeth police, and Lee Jasper, chair of the Lambeth Youth Safety Forum and Alliance for Police Accountability.

Mr Taylor’s family was represented at the inquest by Duncan Lewis solicitor Courtney Smith.

In a statement after the verdict, she said: “The inquest heard that although the police were told the ambulance service had suspended responses to all but the most urgent calls, the officers with Mr Taylor did not consider driving him to a hospital, which was only two streets away.

“The Met police’s policy is that officers can drive detainees to hospital in exceptional circumstances.

“Their training is clear in that those circumstances include instances where ambulances are severely delayed, and when it is believed that a person will die or that their health will seriously deteriorate if not taken to hospital immediately.

“However, the officers appeared not to believe that Mr Taylor was seriously unwell, telling him to ‘stop acting up’ and to ‘grow up’.

“One described Mr Taylor’s pleas for help as ‘all a load of nonsense’.

“In addition, the officers present appeared unaware of the Met’s policy and were repeatedly heard saying on body-worn video footage that they could do nothing but wait for an ambulance.”

“I need my inhaler … I can’t breathe … I’m dying.” 

Pauline Taylor said that “These were the last pleading words of my nephew. He died on the street begging for help, not from just one, but seven police officers who casually dismissed his pleas and even went so far as to laugh and mock him.

“What more could he have said in those moments to solicit help and simple human compassion from those who are sworn to serve and protect.

“What has been learnt? One officer said that he would do exactly the same given the same set of circumstances … May God help us!

“Our family is broken, our pain wakes us each morning and steals into our dreams at night, but in trying to heal we recognise that the disclosures relating to Ian’s untimely and cruel death can be used as a tool to bring about better training, effective practice and holistic awareness and challenge the ugly existence of racism.”

Cllr Hashi said: “I would encourage people to join this important meeting so we can come to together as a community and have the difficult, and much needed, open and honest conversation about Ian Taylor’s tragic death.

“Very serious issues have been raised about his death, and I will be joining the police, community representatives, our local MP Helen Hayes and police accountability experts to hear how we have got into this terrible situation, and what now must change.”

Pastor Lorraine Jones said: “The death of the late Ian Taylor and its circumstances are very traumatising and hard to comprehend.

“His last words were: ‘I can’t breathe’. It is harrowing to know that this was in the presence of police officers that say they did everything in their power to help.

“The local hospital, King’s College, was just minutes away, and I personally can’t accept that the police could not take Mr Taylor to the hospital for help under such critical circumstances or have access to an asthma pump.

“Something needs to change from the government level filtering to the police, so this does not happen again. This could have happened to any one of us.”

Lee Jasper said: “The news of how Ian died has emotionally scarred and traumatised our communities. Those Lambeth officers who were complicit in Ian’s death should be sacked.

“The Metropolitan police is in deep crisis. Lambeth has the worst figures on Black public confidence and the disproportionate use of police powers of any borough in London other than Westminster.

“For a world city like London and a borough like Lambeth, this is unacceptable.

“Lambeth’s Black and ethnic minority communities require a Lambeth race action plan to ensure this never happens again.”

The meeting will be live streamed

Register to attend in person 6.30pm, Assembly Hall, Lambeth town hall.