Police are facing growing pressure to release body camera and CCTV footage of the arrest of Mohamud Hassan, who died suddenly hours after being released from police custody in Cardiff.
More than 1,200 people have now signed a petition demanding the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) – which is investigating the contact South Wales Police had with Hassan during his arrest and time in custody on the evening of January 8 – share evidence with his grieving family.
Hassan’s family say he must have been assaulted while in custody, with his aunt Zainab Hassan telling BBC Wales she had seen him after his release on January 9 with “lots of wounds on his body and lots of bruises”.
As questions rose about the circumstances of Hassan’s death South Wales Police urged against speculation, saying their early findings “indicate no misconduct issues and no excessive force”, but confirmed they had referred the case to the IOPC.
As part of the IOPC’s investigation, South Wales Police have handed over their footage and told HuffPost UK they could not release it while it was being reviewed.
But campaigners, frustrated by a lack of transparency around Hassan’s death, have demanded the tapes be released to his family to give them answers about what happened during and after his arrest.
Lee Jasper, former deputy mayor of London, launched the petition to release the police footage and has written extensively about the questions surrounding Hassan’s death.
He told HuffPost UK: “I believe that post-Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd, we have to demand a paradigm shift in the way that institutions and organisations respond to these policing issues.
“In line with that, I think body camera, CCTV, and police station film footage of individuals who are part of critical policing incidents that are of great public concern should be released to their families or to those individuals immediately.”
The use of body cameras has been repeatedly cited as a method of opening police forces up to greater levels of transparency, with their use coming back into widespread conversation during the wave of Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Jasper said: “It was said they [body cameras] would be a means of providing community reassurance around the appropriate behaviour of police officers in their interactions with communities.
“If you look back to the introduction of CCTV and the body cam, they were initially introduced in response to the first round of Black Lives Matter protests in 2018, when it was said they would be a means of providing community reassurance around the appropriate behaviour of police officers in their interactions with those communities.
“We now have to publicly demand [that a] greater transparency and accountability of police services takes material effect in the form, on this occasion, of providing this footage to a concerned community.”
A spokesperson for South Wales Police said the force had “provided all relevant CCTV footage and body-worn video to the IOPC”.
They continued: “Therefore the footage cannot be released by South Wales Police while the IOPC is investigating.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of Mr Hassan and we acknowledge the impact that his death has had on the wider community.
“We are fully co-operating with the IOPC investigation and are providing them with all of the information and material they have requested.”
A spokesperson for the IOPC told HuffPost UK that the investigation into Hassan’s death is still “at an early stage and ongoing”, confirming that they were now in possession of “extensive” footage, including body camera video and CCTC from the local authority, police and private cameras.
They added: “We are painstakingly reviewing this footage to help piece together what happened and this essential work will take some time. At this very early stage of our investigation it would not be appropriate to release footage into the public domain.
“This footage may need to be used in any future possible proceedings – whether they be criminal, misconduct or inquest – which could potentially arise from the investigation.
“At an appropriate time, we would want to ensure that Mr Hassan’s family and legal representatives have an opportunity to view relevant footage. Any release of footage at some point in the future would need to be discussed with the coroner, family and other interested parties.”
The spokesperson added that the IOPC was “deeply aware” of the public concern surrounding Hassan’s death and said his family would be updated regularly throughout the investigation.
It emerged on Saturday that a woman was facing a £500 fine for allegedly organising a demonstration outside Cardiff Bay police station in the wake of Hassan’s death, in violation of the Welsh government’s Covid-19 regulations.
The Guardian reported that she had been reported for summons after organising the protests on January 12 and January 13, during which around 200 protesters called for footage to be released.
Two other arrests were made during the protests, the paper reported, with police stating that further inquiries were underway.
Jasper said: “Had the body cam footage been released [...] there wouldn’t have been any demonstrations.
“Now what they’re [South Wales Police] doing is criminalising a community which is expressing its rightful anger and concern about precisely what the circumstances of this arrest were, particularly given that there is conflicting information that would suggest he was the subject of a violent arrest.
“It’s outrageous. Black people are already disproportionately targeted by Covid emergency powers, and now what seems to be happening both in London and Cardiff is the Covid emergency powers are being used as part of a politically oppressive action by the police to suppress a genuine concern and public anxiety about Black deaths in custody.”
He continued: “Let’s face it, it is a pretty exceptional circumstance to be demonstrating in. These are not individuals who woke up one morning and said” ‘Let’s break Covid restrictions’ – these are people who are expressing a desperate degree of concern around the untimely death of a Black man.
“If the police and the government don’t want to see that kind of reaction then they need to make sure that the film footage and all elements of the investigation are completely transparent and accountable to communities.”
South Wales Police said that in “normal circumstances” a peaceful protest would have been facilitated “while minimising disruption to the wider public”, but added: “Coronavirus remains a deadly disease and there are restrictions in place to prevent its spread.”
A spokesperson continued: “Officers worked to engage with protest attendees in order to remind them of their obligations under the current coronavirus legislation, including the prohibition on meeting people outside your own household, and the overarching goal for everyone to take personal responsibility by following Welsh government regulations to stay home.
“We are duty-bound to take into account all relevant legislation, and South Wales Police has strived to maintain a consistent policing style of engaging, explaining and encouraging, and enforcing as last resort where necessary, throughout this public health emergency. This approach has been maintained.”