The golden hours: inquiry reveals on investigating Sheku Bayoh's death 4

The golden hours: inquiry reveals on investigating Sheku Bayoh’s death

As the third hearing of the public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh starts, The Ferret looks at the evidence heard about the investigation by police into his death.

As the sun rises in the early hours of the morning, or as it sets at the end of the day, the light appears warmer and softer. These are known as the golden hours.

But in police-speak the golden hours are also the first 24 hours in an investigation that give detectives the best opportunity to gather significant evidence. 

Those critical hours were the focus of the last hearing of the public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, from Fife, who died on 3 May 2015 after being restrained by up to six police officers. 

Police had been called to the scene in Hayfield Road, Kirkcaldy, after locals reported seeing a black man with a knife in the early hours of the morning, behaving erratically. 

He was restrained within less than two minutes, stopped breathing and was later pronounced dead in hospital.  

His devastated family insist he would still be alive if he had not encountered police that day, and say he – and they – would have been treated differently if he had not been Black. But officers questioned at the inquiry refute this.

The Ferret has been following the public inquiry into Bayoh’s death since it started last May, summarising the evidence from each hearing in our podcast – Sheku Bayoh: The Inquiry.

The investigation commences

It was detective chief Inspector Keith Hardie who told the inquiry that those crucial hours were known as the golden hours. “It’s a sort of recognised terminology,” he said. “Your first 24 hours are where your best opportunities are to gather evidence.”

So what happened in those initial hours? When Sheku was pronounced dead at 9:04am, a critical incident was declared.

Detective superintendent Pat Campbell –  on call for the whole of the east of Scotland that Sunday – started with a range of hypotheses.

He told the inquiry: “At the start of any investigation you keep an open mind at all times around the potential reasons why someone may have died. I was aware that there had been restraint by the police officers, so one of the aspects is, did Mr Bayoh die as a result of restraint?”

But he also considered whether he had been assaulted earlier, if he had a medical condition, or if he had died due to drink or drugs. Terrorism was quickly discounted following background checks. 

By 9.30am police also had a lead on Sheku’s identity. His partner Collette Bell had been staying at her mum’s overnight with her 15-week old baby son. When she returned to her home, she found it in disarray. Her partner was missing. Soon after she called the police.

Officers visited her house then brought her to Kirkcaldy station, where they told her Sheku had died. But, on the instruction of senior officers, they did not tell her he had contact with the police beforehand.

She told the inquiry that officers said “there’s been a body found that matches your partner’s description” and when she asked how he had died, they said that “a passer-by had found him dead on the street”.

Under questioning police categorically denied they had used the term “body found” or made any mention of a passer-by, but some admitted they should have told her more.

Colette said she agreed to give a statement that morning because she understood her partner had been murdered and wanted to help police find whoever was responsible.

The golden hours: inquiry reveals on investigating Sheku Bayoh's death 5
Sheku and Collette together at a wedding.

Meanwhile officers went to Zahid Saeed’s family home, to seize it and look for evidence. He was not there but his twin sister, Saadia Rashid answered the door.

Saadia said in evidence the experience was traumatic. “He was just forceful,” she said. “He didn’t give me a chance to think about anything. I just felt scared and intimidated by him.”

She told officers she could not move her disabled brother Abid’s wheelchair and that everything he needed – including a specially adapted bed and hoist – was in their home. But she said her requests went unheeded. 

Next on the list of priorities in the investigation was Sheku’s close friend Martyn Dick, at whose house he and Zahid had watched a boxing match in the early hours.

At about 1pm that day multiple police cars – nine or ten officers in all – arrived at the home Martyn shared with his now-wife Kirsty.

The couple wanted to help and agreed to go with them to the police station. They took it in turns to go upstairs and change while an officer stood outside the door and were then put into separate police cars and taken to the police station to be interviewed individually for several hours.

It seemed as if we might be in some kind of trouble… like they were trying to control the information that was going to be coming out next.

Martyn Dick, Sheku’s friend

Martyn told the inquiry he thought it was a strange way to treat them, given they had not committed a crime. 

“It was a scary situation… it was as if we had done something wrong,” he told the inquiry.  “It seemed as if we might be in some kind of trouble… like they were trying to control the information that was going to be coming out next.”

The house was seized by police, who said they had consent. But Martyn said he doesn’t remember ever being asked. Police did not tell him that his friend had died.

By the time senior officers met for a second time at 2.40 that afternoon Sheku’s sister, Kadi Johnson, had still not been informed either.

Plans to wait for family liaison officers were abandoned and the same two detective constables who had interviewed Collette Bell were dispatched to Kadi’s home at 3pm.

Asked about the delay, detective superintendent Campbell said it was one of the “significant regrets” he had about his leadership that day.

Again, officers told Kadi her brother had died without mentioning police contact. In her evidence she said: “They were saying that they were looking for two guys… they said he was found lying on the road and they called an ambulance and on the way to the hospital he died. We just had different stories.”

Officers deny this version of events.

But due to concerns about the family’s reaction they were sent back with an offer to meet chief superintendent Garry McEwan, Fife’s local policing commander, who knew Kadi’s husband. While there they received a call from their boss and were told to read another statement in which they revealed Sheku had been arrested prior to his death.

Police are meant to be here to protect communities, protect individuals. Something’s gone wrong during that apprehension of Sheku which has led to his death. We have to be seen to be transparent and not hide anything, as open and honest as we possibly can.

Detective chief inspector Keith Hardie

The impact of this, Kadi told the inquiry, was that the family “lost faith” in the police. 

Meanwhile back at Kirkcaldy police station officers who had been involved in the incident at Hayfield Road had remained together in the canteen as instructed and, on the advice of the Scottish Police Federation, had not given statements. 

The inquiry heard conflicting reports about the reasons for this. In hearing one, officers said they were unclear if they were witnesses or suspects.

But detective superintendent Campbell insisted it was made explicitly clear to officers they were witnesses, telling the inquiry it was the first time in his 27 years of experience that an officer had “refused” to provide an operational statement.

Detective chief inspector Keith Hardie of major investigations, who had been brought in to oversee the transfer of the investigation from Police Scotland to Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), told the inquiry the decision of officers not to provide statements fuelled public concern that there had been “a cover-up”.

He said in evidence: “Police are meant to be here to protect communities, protect individuals. Something’s gone wrong during that apprehension of Sheku which has led to his death. We have to be seen to be transparent and not hide anything, as open and honest as we possibly can.”

He also claimed he would have focussed attention on Hayfield Road, including door-to-door enquiries.

But neighbour Kevin Nelson, who saw police apprehending Sheku Bayoh from his window, told the inquiry during hearing one that he was not interviewed until the evening of Tuesday 5 May.

Other investigators

He also revealed it was not just PIRC investigators who visited him either. In “late summer” that year, according to his evidence, John Sallens, a former detective who left the police in 2013, knocked on his door.

Kevin Nelson said he introduced himself as “working on behalf of or working for the police or the solicitors representing the police”.

John Sallens, now a private investigator, had been working for Peter Watson Solicitors, according to Nicole Short’s statement to PIRC on 4 June 2015. Peter Watson had been hired by the Scottish Police Federation as a legal adviser

Kevin Nelson told the inquiry: “He was telling me he …wasn’t necessarily a good guy – he pretty much described him as like a heavy for a local gangster-type chap that had been in the news round about that time.”

Peter Watson is now representing PC Craig Walker and Nicole Short in the inquiry. He declined to comment while the inquiry was ongoing. Neither John Sallens nor the Scottish Police Federation responded to requests for comment.

But Kevin Nelson said in his statement that when he later saw John Sallens on a TV programme about the murder of Jodi Jones and realised he was a private detective he felt “duped”.

Others told the inquiry about the way they lost trust because of police actions.

Saadia told the inquiry that as a Muslim wearing a hijab “I don’t feel safe as it is”. Now, she added: “we don’t feel safe in our own homes anymore.”

Martyn Dick too, was left struggling to trust police. “I want to teach my children that they should trust them,” he told the inquiry.

“But it’s difficult because I now have clear evidence that they can’t always be trusted because of…all the ridiculous stories that came out, all the lies that they told to Shek’s family.”

In the most recent annual Police Scotland survey 39 percent of people said they either agreed or strongly agreed that they had confidence in the local policing. The previous year that figure was 57 percent. 

Police Scotland says issues like visibility, accessibility and community engagement impact on public confidence. But it acknowledges that the values and behaviours of our officers and staff also play a part. 

We are committed to listening to all our communities so we can continually improve how we represent, reflect and serve them.

Assistant chief constable Emma Bond, Police Scotland

In his opening statement to the inquiry chief constable Iain Livingstone acknowledged the importance of community confidence in policing, saying he would “build and maintain that bond of trust with all communities” and “continue to implement necessary change” needed for  “just and effective policing”.

Assistant chief constable Emma Bond told The Ferret:  “We are committed to listening to all our communities so we can continually improve how we represent, reflect and serve them.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Police Authority agreed that “positive and effective relations between policing and Scotland’s diverse communities” were essential to building public trust.

Along with Police Scotland it recently commissioned research with the Scottish Institute for Policing Research on working more effectively with “seldom heard” communities including Black, Asian and ethnic minority ones. 

“Effective and transparent oversight of policing plays a central role which is why it is a key priority for the Authority as the primary governance body for policing in Scotland,” they added. 

Meanwhile this Tuesday the inquiry recommences, hearing this week from experts about the cause of Sheku Bayoh’s death.

You can listen to The Ferret’s podcast Sheku Bayoh: The inquiry at theferret.scot or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 5 is out on Monday, 8 May. 

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