The family of Sheku Bayoh have spoken out about their “anger” and “dismay” over the behaviour of Gordon Jackson, one of Scotland’s most senior lawyers, who they believe was the legal representative apparently watching a football match during the inquiry into Bayoh’s death.
The inquiry chair, Lord Bracadale, opened the day’s session by dressing down legal representatives for “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” behaviour. The inquiry is investigating the circumstances of Bayoh’s death while being restrained by six police officers in Kirkcaldy in May 2015.
Bracadale did not name any individual lawyers in his remarks.
But in a statement the family identified Jackson and said they were “dismayed” by his behaviour. The senior lawyer is representing police officers PC Kayleigh Goode, Ashley Tomlinson and Alan Paton.
In reports in the Times, Jackson denied that he had watched the World Cup.
The family claimed this was not the first time he had behaved inappropriately. The Ferret has contacted Jackson for a response.
The senior Kings Counsel formerly represented former first minster Alex Salmond against charges of sexual assault including rape in 2020.
Bayoh inquiry told behaviour ‘wholly unacceptable’
On Wednesday, he was seen leaving the inquiry room after audio from his mobile phone indicated he was watching a football game.
Inquiry chair Lord Bracknell also warned legal representatives about “wholly unacceptable” facial expressions – which The Ferret understands included eye rolling – when some evidence was being heard.
His response was prompted by a submission raised by Claire Mitchell KC – the lawyer for Bayoh’s family – at the close of Wednesday’s session.
Referring to the incident Mitchell asked the chair to ensure that phones were used “for communication only”.
She said: “The chair can make their own inquiries but it sounded like [the] football. This sort of interruption is clearly not what we or indeed the family wished for.”
Lord Bracadale, who considered the submission overnight, commenced the session on 1 December with remarks about a series of concerns that had been raised to him about the behaviour of legal representatives.
He said that while yesterday’s incident had been a “particularly egregious” example of “inappropriate” behaviour it was “not the first time” that issues had been raised.
“I have no difficulty with mobile phones being used silently,” he added. “But inappropriate use within the hearing room is distracting and disrespectful”.
Other concerns raised included legal representatives “engaging in lengthy conversations during the evidence,” he added. “This can be distracting in the hearing room.”
He added: “Third, I have received legal representations to the effect that certain legal representatives have on occasion reacted to some of the evidence by adopting inappropriate facial expressions,” he said. “If that has been happening it would, on any view, be very disrespectful and wholly unacceptable”.
Lord Bracknell concluded by reminding all legal representatives that the evidence hearings were being broadcast and “watched around the world” making it “as surprising as it is disappointing” that the behaviour had taken place.
Kadi Johnson, Sheku Bayoh’s sister, said: “We are in a public inquiry to hear evidence of how and hopefully why my brother Sheku died. Yesterday afternoon Gordon Jackson KC, a lawyer for three of the officers, PCs Smith, Good and Tomlinson, had the audacity to sit and watch football during the evidence of an expert witness Joanne Caffrey.
“We were left so angry and found this behaviour not only to be disrespectful to us as a family, our lawyers, the Chair and assessors but smacked of contempt for this inquiry. Never mind having respect for us as a family, but what about the police officers he represents?”
She claims this was “one of many occasions” that the family “have been dismayed at the manner in which some of the police lawyers have acted during the hearing”.
“We have a direct eyeline and see what they do but yesterday was the final straw for us to find that a lawyer being paid thousands of pounds from public money to do his job was busy watching the World Cup,” she added.
The inquiry was announced last November after campaigning by Bayoh’s family, who believe race played a role in his death. The first hearing ran from May until July and then restarted last week.
It is currently hearing from expert witness Joanne Caffrey, a former police officer and trainer with a background in custody and the use of force.
Responding to questioning by Angela Grahame KC, the inquiry’s senior counsel about how a “reasonable officer” may have responded to the circumstances surrounding the Sheku Bayoh case, she claimed yesterday that very different tactics could have been used.
Bayoh ambulance not called
An ambulance should have been called to the scene where it could remain on stand-by when officers saw signs which should have alerted them to risk factors – including his “bulging eyes” and intoxicated state, she said.
In fact, an ambulance was not called until officers realised that Bayoh had fallen unconscious while in restraint. He stopped breathing four minutes later. The ambulance was initially ordered to go to the wrong address by the control room.
Caffrey also claimed that officers could have waited and observed the situation, or approached while still in the police vehicle and initially engaged him by opening the window in a car or van.
Asked about the levels of force appropriate for the level of threat presented, Caffrey said that officers should be aiming to use the lowest level of force possible, and should look at ways of “containing” rather than restraining, using a police dog if possible.
She said: “It’s about trying to keep everything as calm as possible to try and minimise escalation of violence.”
Caffrey will continue to give evidence until 2 December, with the hearing expected to continue until 9 December.
This story was updated to include a link to a Times article in which Gordon Jackson reportedly denied watching the World Cup.
Photo credit: Handout