Documentary alleges police cover-up in Sheku Bayoh death in custody case


A new documentary has revealed allegations of a police cover-up in the case of a man who died in custody.

Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015 while being held by officers who were responding to a call in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

The 32-year-old’s family claimed race played a part in his death and they criticised the subsequent investigation.

A BBC Panorama investigation now alleges that two police officers involved may have provided false statements to investigators.

Sheku Bayoh
Sheku Bayoh

The officers had claimed Mr Bayoh carried out a stamping attack on a female police constable before being brought to the ground and restrained by up to six officers.

However, a witness to the 2015 incident has told BBC Panorama the stamping attack “didn’t happen”.

Kevin Nelson was in a nearby house, and saw events unfold over a garden hedge.

Mr Nelson told BBC Panorama he saw Mr Bayoh attempt to walk away from the officers, ignoring their commands, before being sprayed with CS spray.

He said Mr Bayoh retaliated and punched Pc Nicole Short but then ran off from where she went down and was quickly intercepted by other officers.

Asked if there had been any further contact with Pc Short, he said: “No. He was running off… after the punch, there was no more attack on her at all.”

He added: “I didn’t see him stamping at all or, other than the punch, any raised arms. After the punch, that was it. There was no more attack on her at all.”

The BBC said Mr Nelson’s account is supported by CCTV footage of the incident, obtained by Panorama which is poor quality but appears to show that once Pc Short is knocked down by Mr Bayoh, the action appears to move away from her, and Mr Bayoh is brought down within five seconds.

Mr Bayoh’s sister Kadi Johnson told the programme the new allegations had made her “very angry”. She said: “Five years ago, the way they painted Sheku to be, that’s not who he was.”

A full public inquiry into the death is now under way.

A spokesman for the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said serving officers were unable to comment on matters “to which they may be called upon to give sworn evidence” but that they had “co-operated fully and truthfully with the investigations that have taken place”.

It added it had seen “compelling material that Mr Bayoh did violently stamp on the back of a policewoman as she lay unconscious”.

The BBC said it asked for this material to be produced but was told the inquiry was the “proper forum” for such matters.

Kevin Clarke
Kevin Clarke

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “The death of Sheku Bayoh was, and remains, a terrible tragedy. It has had a traumatic impact on his family and friends, as well as affecting many people within policing and the wider community of Kirkcaldy and Scotland.

“I am committed to supporting all those who have been affected by Sheku Bayoh’s death throughout this time.

“I met privately with the family of Sheku Bayoh in December 2019 and expressed to his mother and sister my sincere personal condolences, and those of the service. I also undertook that Police Scotland will participate fully in the Public Inquiry in an open and transparent manner.

“Now the Public Inquiry under Lord Bracadale has been established, it is vital that its independence is respected to ensure the application of the rule of law, due process, and justice being served.”

The Panorama documentary also investigates the case of Kevin Clarke, 35, who died in 2018 after being restrained in London by up to nine officers.

Mr Clarke’s sister Tellecia told the programme that if the officers “hadn’t used excessive force he would still be here today… treat him like a human being, and not just see him as a big scary black man”.

Metropolitan Police Commander Bas Javid apologised to Kevin Clarke’s family and accepted the restraint had not been appropriate.

Commander Javid said he had seen no evidence race was a factor in Mr Clarke’s death, but accepted that “racial bias and prejudice” still existed in the Met.

BBC Panorama, I Can’t Breathe: Black And Dead In Custody is on BBC One at 7.35pm on Monday