ESTABLISHING the truth can be a long process; delivering the justice that truth demands can be even longer.
Few will know this better than the family of Sheku Bayoh, whose death in 2015 while being restrained by police in Kirkcaldy, Fife has animated much protest from anti-racism campaigners throughout Scotland, and is now – finally – the subject of a public inquiry.
That inquiry, announced just over a year ago after the lord advocate’s confirmation that no charges would be brought against the nine officers involved in Bayoh’s restraint, has now begun. According to Lord Bracadale, the retired senior judge chairing the inquiry, it will be an “inquisitorial” investigation into the immediate circumstances of Bayoh’s death, its subsequent investigation, police handling of the aftermath and whether race was a factor.
Though Bracadale acknowledged that he and his team “are conscious of the length of time this has hung over all involved, particularly the Bayoh family”, he noted that it is “impossible to say how long the inquiry will take”, particularly given that somewhere in the region of 50,000 documents will need to be scrutinised.
The Bayoh family themselves have been fighting for five years, and this inquiry would arguably not have come to be without their brave efforts. It is hard to imagine they will not remain resolute in their determination to see justice, no matter how long it takes.
As the family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar commented: “The real test of this inquiry will not be the sympathy expressed for a family who have conducted themselves throughout with utmost dignity, but whether this country acts to ensure that real change takes place in an unaccountable, all powerful justice system.
“This inquiry must be prepared to go where no inquiry has gone before. Whilst for some it has been easy to scapegoat Police Scotland, for the family the ultimate betrayal was at the hands of the Lord Advocate and Crown Office.”
In the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests, some asked what those engaged in demonstrations of solidarity throughout Scotland and the UK hoped to achieve, beyond showing sympathy for protests in the US. The case of Sheku Bayoh, among others, has become a flashpoint for those seeking the kind of “real change” Anwar describes. Speaking ahead of the STUC’s St Andrews Day Rally Against Racism on 28 November, Usman Ali, chair of the trade union body’s Black Workers Committee, noted that building a fairer, equal and just nation means “delivering justice for the family of Sheku Bayoh and learn[ing] the lessons so no Black and Minority Ethnic Person will face this injustice again.” Achieving this may take time, but the first step has been taken.
This stands in sharp contrast to the UK Government’s decision to deny the family of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, who was shot in front of his family in 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries, an inquiry into state collusion in his murder. Such an inquiry was promised by Tony Blair’s government in 2001, but reneged upon by successive administrations.
As pointed out by Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan: “This decision will add fuel to the fire of suspicion that there is and continues to be a sinister cover-up of the full extent of official involvement in this murder.
“Mr Finucane’s family had to live through the horror of witnessing his death, a killing organised in partnership with the State, and they continue to suffer at the Government’s hands in being denied the truth.”
For decades now, the Finucane family has fought with a similar tenacity to that of Bayoh in the search for both truth and justice; unfortunately, their repeated frustrations demonstrate that neither are inevitable.
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