Bereaved families of people who have died in police custody could be spared the ordeal of applying for legal aid, the government has hinted.
Responding to Dame Elish Angiolini QC’s independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, published yesterday, the government said the lord chancellor will review existing guidance ‘so that it is clear that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest’ subject to the director of legal aid casework’s ‘overarching discretion’.
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Before David ‘Rocky’ Bennett’s death in a psychiatric unit 18 years ago, he sent a letter to the nurse director, pointing out there were no black staff members. He wrote:
“There are over half a dozen black boys in this clinic. I don’t know if you have realised that there are no Africans on your staff at the moment”.
Bennett died while being held down by four staff members at a psychiatric unit after a violent altercation with another patient and a nurse. Looking at the circumstances around his untimely death, it’s clear his blackness was threatening to staff members. He had been using the mental health for at least a decade, yet his needs as a black Rastafarian were not being met.