Ministerial statement: Humza Yousaf statement on Sheku Bayoh - Next steps



Thank you Presiding Officer.  

As members will be aware, the Lord Advocate met with the family of Sheku Bayoh yesterday to inform them of the outcome of the Victim’s Right to Review process in connection with the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s tragic death in 2015.

Mr Bayoh died in the course of an operation by police officers to restrain him and I know the thoughts of members across the Chamber will be with his family and friends at this difficult time.  

Following what has been a complex and thorough investigation and review, the Lord Advocate has confirmed that, on the basis of the evidence available, there will be no criminal proceedings against Police Scotland or individual police officers in connection with Mr Bayoh’s death.

The First Minister and I met with the family today to express our deepest condolences and assure them of our commitment to establishing the facts surrounding this tragic incident. They are right to expect a full public examination of the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s death and I stated my determination to put in place a process to deliver that.

Today, I can confirm that I will establish a statutory Public Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the circumstances leading up to and following Mr Bayoh’s death.

Indeed, all deaths in police custody are subject to a mandatory Fatal Accident Inquiry under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016. The responsibility for establishing the FAI sits with the Procurator Fiscal, under the direction of the Lord Advocate. FAIs examine the cause of death and consider steps to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.

In this case, however, the Lord Advocate, as head of the system for the investigation of deaths in Scotland, considers the remit of a FAI would not allow all the issues which require to be investigated to be addressed. FAIs can examine circumstances and factors leading up to a death, but not what follows after, and in this case, the Lord Advocate has identified questions, raising issues of public interest and importance, about the early stages of the post-incident management of the investigation that an FAI simply could not examine.

That being the case, it is imperative that the circumstances leading up to Mr Bayoh’s death and the events that followed are examined in full and in public.

I am conscious that public inquiries are significant undertakings and this is not a decision to be made in haste.

As members will be aware, Mr Bayoh’s family have been calling for a Public Inquiry for a number of years and the First Minister made clear it was definitely an option. When I met the family last year, I assured them that this Government shared the family’s commitment to getting answers.

On that basis, it is one option I have been considering in advance of the confirmation yesterday of the Lord Advocate’s decision – not to pre-empt that decision but to be prepared for this outcome.

Now that we have confirmation there will be no criminal proceedings in this case, and having examined all other options, I believe that as a Government it is right that we should hold a Public Inquiry. I have discussed this with Mr Bayoh’s family, honouring my commitment to update them first. They were very clear in their determination to get to the facts surrounding Mr Bayoh’s tragic death and a Public Inquiry is now the surest way to do this.

The terms of reference of the Public Inquiry will determine the scope, direction and parameters of the Inquiry, so it will be important to take the time to get them right. It will cover matters which would be covered by a FAI and also a range of other issues such as the post-incident management of the investigation. The formulation of the terms of reference will require discussion with the person appointed to Chair the inquiry; and I will also wish to discuss the draft terms of reference with those most directly affected by the Inquiry, with a view to shaping a remit that is clearly focused.

We must not lose sight of the purpose of this Inquiry: to establish the circumstances leading to and following the tragic death of Mr Bayoh in order to identify any steps which could prevent deaths in similar circumstances – and to improve the post-incident management following such deaths.

For any independent scrutiny of this case to be rigorous and credible, it must address the question of whether or not Mr Bayoh’s race played a part in how the incident was approached and dealt with by the Police. In saying that, I am not prejudging the answer to that question; that will be for the Inquiry, which will be independent of Ministers.

In order to do this effectively, the Inquiry must be equipped with the necessary diversity of expertise and background to scrutinise the extent to which race was a factor in this case.

 I will be discussing how we can build diversity into the structures of this Inquiry with the Chair, who will also be instrumental in helping to shape the terms of reference. The formal process directed to appointing a Chair will begin shortly and it will be important to ensure the Chair will command the confidence of those involved and the public. This will include ensuring an appropriate level of expertise in taking forward the remit of the Inquiry. This, too, will take time but I will return to the Chamber to provide a full statement confirming the Inquiry’s terms of reference and the Chair early next year.

 If systemic issues emerge that were causal or contributory factors in this case, then it is right that the Inquiry address these. While we must be careful not to expand the terms of reference beyond its core purpose, not least to avoid further delaying the process for all involved, it is important that all relevant issues are covered.

However, it is not intended that this Inquiry will consider the wider framework for investigations into serious incidents involving the police given that, as members will be aware, Dame Elish Angiolini is currently reviewing law and practice for complaint handling, investigations and misconduct in relation to policing. There may be areas of shared interest between the Review and this Public Inquiry but Dame Angolini’s Review is not investigating individual cases, whereas the primary purpose of this Inquiry will be to examine the circumstances of this specific case.

I am of course aware of other families who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances and are looking for answers. My thoughts – and those of colleagues in this Chamber – remain with those families. In a number of cases, complex investigations are still underway, while others may be subject to other processes, including the FAI process. Each of these cases will have its own distinct features and it is important to allow those processes to run their course.

As I set out in my letter to the Justice Committee last week, I recognise there are questions about the arrangements within the SPS and NHS for handling deaths in prison custody. That is why I have asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons to undertake a review into the handling of deaths in prison custody. In addition to HMCIPS, I have asked Professor Nancy Loucks of Families Outside to work alongside and provide external expertise. The review will have a sharp human rights focus and ensure the voice of families of those in prison is heard.

Turning back to policing, it is worth noting that since the establishment of Police Scotland, public scrutiny of policing has never been greater and understandably so. It is essential that public and parliamentary confidence in the police remains strong and I know members will share my view that the police officers and staff across Scotland work hard to keep us all safe.  

The 2018/19 annual report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland stated that: “we continue to be impressed by the determination of officers and staff to delivering an effective policing service to the communities they serve.”

The majority of adults (57%) also said that the police were doing a good or excellent job in their local area. As a Government, we remain committed to excellence in policing and our commitment to protect Police Scotland’s revenue budget has seen the annual budget increase by more than £80 million since 2016/17.

Of course, policing by consent depends upon accountability and it is vital that the police are held to account when things go wrong. I know, having spoken to the Chief Constable regularly, that he values this accountability.

I am clear that a Public Inquiry will provide the independent and robust mechanism needed to give us that clear understanding. As with all statutory Inquiries, it will be inquisitorial rather than adversarial. It will also identify lessons and improvements for the future to help prevent deaths in similar circumstances and build trust and confidence in policing.

Let me finish, Presiding Officer, by expressing my condolences once again to Mr Bayoh’s family and friends, who have been unwavering in their search for answers. I am confident that a statutory Public Inquiry under the 2005 Act will provide the best means of establishing the circumstances leading to and following Mr Bayoh’s tragic death.


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