They Couldn't Breathe: Families Of British Men Who Died In Police Custody Speak Out

1,784 people have died in England and Wales after contact with the police since 1990 – yet no officer has been held to account
British men who have died in police custody. Pictured (from left) Lloyd Butler, Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder in baseball cap and his paratrooper's uniform, and Mikey Powell
British men who have died in police custody. Pictured (from left) Lloyd Butler, Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder in baseball cap and his paratrooper's uniform, and Mikey Powell
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty/Handout

The CCTV footage shows a man face down on the floor of a police station, handcuffed and unresponsive, as he gasps for breath.

Officers are heard laughing and joking while making monkey and chimpanzee noises, apparently unmoved by the desperate plight of the man in front of them.

To this day, Christopher Alder’s sister cannot understand how Humberside Police stood by, ignoring her brother’s need for help and mocking him as he died.

“They never even gave him a chance,” she says.

“They saw me and my family as just Black people that didn’t deserve any respect whatsoever. Christopher didn’t deserve any respect – he was Black, it didn’t matter. And, you know, the whole system has done it.”

Christopher, a father and former British Army paratrooper who had served in the Falklands, had been assaulted at a nightclub earlier that evening.

Janet has spent decades trying to piece together the events that followed, leaving her brother unconscious on the floor of the custody suite with his trousers around his knees.

Christopher Alder, a father-of-two, died on the floor of a police station in Hull
Christopher Alder, a father-of-two, died on the floor of a police station in Hull
Supplied by Christopher Alder's family

The UK has not seen a single successful prosecution for murder or manslaughter in relation to a death in police custody since 1969.

It is a statistic made even more poignant by the recent, albeit rare, conviction of police officer Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder in the US.

The Alders are just one of the many bereaved families campaigning for the same accountability this side of the Atlantic.

Their cases involve people who were in need of the police’s help – because they were in a mental health crisis or a victim of crime – but ended up losing their lives. At least 100 involve Black victims. And many involve racial stereotyping by police, families say.

The killing of George Floyd in America has thrown a global spotlight on the many people who have died in police custody with no one held to account.

Christopher’s case has become emblematic of their fight in the UK.

So has that of Sean Rigg, who died in 2008 after being restrained by Metropolitan Police officers during a mental health crisis.

His sister Marcia Rigg tells HuffPost UK: “Why I do the work I do is to highlight the fact. People are on the streets for George Floyd in England. But there’s others in the UK and so we had to raise the bar. Do they march shouting ‘Sean Rigg’, ‘Christopher Alder’ and others in the States? Well, watch this space, because that’s what I want.”

The families campaign alongside groups such as the National Mikey Powell Memorial Family Fund, set up by the relatives of Michael Lloyd Powell, who was killed in police custody in 2003. It offers support and raises awareness of deaths in custody.

The death of Christopher Alder

Janet Alder has been “fighting through every arena of state” for more than 20 years to find out what happened to her brother.

Speaking of the moment, 22 years later, when she saw footage of Floyd’s death, Janet says: “[It was] that same feeling as when I heard about Christopher. It felt like a stone had been dropped in my stomach and it happened again with George Floyd.

“I just thought to myself: it’s not just America. It’s here as well. You know the government wrote a unilateral declaration [that Christopher’s death had been the result of racism] and people have died since. How many deaths have there been here since?”

Christopher's sister Janet Alder has been campaigning over his death for decades
Christopher's sister Janet Alder has been campaigning over his death for decades
Supplied by Janet Alder

Christopher died on April 1, 1998, after being taken to the custody suite at Queens Gardens police station in Kingston upon Hull. He was 37 and had two sons.

The computer programmer and former paratrooper had been taken to hospital following the punch at the nightclub, where his behaviour had changed – potentially due to the fact he had banged his head on a cobbled road.

He was dragged outside the hospital by police with his feet trailing, handcuffed behind his back and put into a police van.

Janet, 59, who lives in Halifax, says there are discrepancies in different accounts of the journey that followed.

“He came out the other side with more severe injuries, with his trousers down to his knees and fully unconscious,” she says. “He’d lost another tooth. He had another cut on his lip, and a cut above his eye that he didn’t have when he was at the hospital earlier on.”

Janet believes Christopher was injured in the police van.

“Well, I think they beat him,” she says. “I think he was handcuffed behind his back and they beat him, they CS gassed him until he was unconscious, and then he died of respiratory failure due to the fact that he’s been gassed and unable to breathe.”

Christopher died in the police station while lying face down with his hands cuffed behind his back. He was surrounded by officers from Humberside Police.

Christopher Alder in his paratrooper's uniform
Christopher Alder in his paratrooper's uniform
Supplied by Christopher Alder's family

Despite an inquest in 2000 finding that his death had been an “unlawful killing”, nobody has yet been held to account.

Five police officers stood trial for manslaughter in 2002, alongside misconduct charges, but the trial collapsed and the judge ordered the jury to find the officers not guilty.

Later, in a landmark report, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found four of the officers present when Christopher died had been guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty” amounting to “unwitting racism”.

Janet completely disowns this term. “I think it’s just total rubbish,” she says. “If somebody is making monkey and chimpanzee noises, speaking about going on fucking banana boats, that’s racism – there’s nothing unwitting about that.”

She fought on taking the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in 2011, which forced the government’s hand to issue a statement about Christopher’s death.

“Basically the government did a last-minute turnaround and wrote a unilateral declaration saying that Christopher’s death was inhuman and degrading and that it was through racism,” she says.

“I just thought: if they’ve admitted it, why are they not doing anything about it? So it’s like an empty gesture. Nothing happened.”

Then, in an unthinkable turn of events, the family were told in November 2011 – 13 years after Christopher’s death – that they had buried the wrong body.

Instead of Christopher, the body of a 77-year-old woman, Grace Kamara, had been released. The ashes of Christopher’s niece had even been placed in the top soil above what the family thought was her uncle’s grave in the years since.

“You know, my goodness,” says Janet. “I was just beginning to try and get myself back together. I’d just got a little job and everything. And then I had a phone call just basically saying that Christopher’s not been buried, and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Christopher is pictured with his platoon (second row, fifth from right)
Christopher is pictured with his platoon (second row, fifth from right)
Supplied by Christopher Alder's family

South Yorkshire Police carried out an investigation into the mix-up, but Janet is crowdfunding to continue her own legal action.

She believes Christopher’s body was targeted because of her fight to challenge the state.

“I think it was because somebody wanted to teach me a lesson,” she says. “But in a way, where they didn’t have the guts to actually do anything to me, by humiliating Christopher and his body, to them it felt like they were doing something to me. I believe that’s what happened.

“It’s absolutely disgusting. You’ve got to ask yourself, why did they not think that my family and Grace’s family would feel how they feel?

“They saw me and my family as just Black people that didn’t deserve any respect whatsoever.”

After 23 years, Janet is confident she has got to the truth of how Christopher died. She says she has access to evidence that hasn’t previously been in the public domain but will be disclosed in a book she is writing about the case.

Details similar to those in Christopher’s case were reflected in the fictional story of Lawrence Christopher in the current series of BBC TV drama Line of Duty – seemingly combined with elements of the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Asked if Christopher’s death could have happened today, Janet says: “Of course it could. Unless you hold people accountable, without accountability, you can’t have change.”

This is why she continues to fight. The impact on her life, though, has been significant: “Quite soul destroying at times.”

Her own children “had their mother taken away and they were given back something completely different” because of the time and emotional energy she has devoted to getting justice for Christopher, Janet says.

Janet campaigning with the film maker Ken Fero, whose documentary on deaths in custody, Ultraviolence, is due for release – <a href="" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name=" " data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="60884fd8e4b0ccb91c2aa4a6" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="9"> </a>
Janet campaigning with the film maker Ken Fero, whose documentary on deaths in custody, Ultraviolence, is due for release –
Migrant Media

“And I just feel that kind of loss,” she says, “because that was taken away from me and my children.

“I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to heal ever, because it’s just been one thing after another, after another, after another, after another. So I’ve not really had any proper psychological help which would help me rationalise things. So it’s just about surviving. You’re surviving what’s going on.”

She recently received a grant from the National Mikey Powell Family Fund, which offers financial support to families whose loved ones have died in police custody, and is using this to help write her book.

“I think it’s been a brilliant idea,” she says of the fund. “I’m sure other families will say exactly the same, because you can easily be forgotten about, especially if your case is not high-profile. I think that family fund lets you know you’ve got a bit of unity and you’ve got people that care.”

The death of Sean Rigg

The talented musician and music producer Sean Rigg died after being restrained by Metropolitan Police officers while in the grip of a mental health crisis.

The 40-year-old father was suffering from a psychotic episode in the street on August 21, 2008. Concerned about his welfare, staff at the hostel where he had been staying made a series of 999 calls asking for him to be taken somewhere safe.

When police arrived on the scene, his older sister Marcia says, they quickly began treating Sean as a criminal instead of taking him somewhere to receive care.

“Sean was arrested for theft of his own passport,” she says. “The officers claimed that they did not recognise that he suffered with mental health [issues], and they were unaware of the previous three hours of 999 calls made by the hostel staff.”

Sean Rigg with his sisters Samantha Rigg-David (centre) and Marcia Rigg (right)
Sean Rigg with his sisters Samantha Rigg-David (centre) and Marcia Rigg (right)
Supplied by Marcia Rigg

She adds: “He was behaving very strangely. And it was obvious to members of the public that he was not well. But the police account is that they didn’t see that.”

Sean was pinned down by officers in a sequence of events that would prove catastrophic.

“He was restrained using excessive force, which an inquest jury found in 2012 was for a period of eight minutes in the prone position, face down, on grass, with four Metropolitan Police officers using excessive force,” says Marcia.

“I believe that Sean probably could not breathe at that time because of the excessive force.

“We saw that George Floyd died within a little bit longer than that when he was restrained in the same position.”

Sean was then taken to Brixton police station in the back of a police van. He was “extremely unwell and not fully conscious” when he was carried to the caged area at the entrance to the custody suite and placed, “handcuffed”, on the floor, the inquest jury found.

“The officers claim that Sean did not say a word from start to finish, but we will never know the answer to that,” says his sister.

“I honestly believe he would have tried to say ‘I can’t breathe’ and would have been afraid when he died – at the foot of five to six police officers, in a cramped cage, at the entrance to Brixton custody suite, practically naked.”

In the 13 years since Sean’s death, his family have been through inquest proceedings, multiple investigations by the IPCC, a criminal trial and police misconduct hearings in their dogged fight for justice. To this day, nobody has been held accountable.

Sean Rigg was a talented musician and music producer, who had written a rap opera play
Sean Rigg was a talented musician and music producer, who had written a rap opera play
Supplied by Marcia Rigg

Marcia, now 57, who lives in south London, says the family had to fight every step of the way to force the Crown Prosecution Service and the IPCC into action, even struggling to get vital evidence put before the court.

“The family had to apply to the coroner just to get access to two photographs that became crucial in establishing what happened to Sean,” she says.

“And so we were able to gain access, my legal team, to look at all of the documents. And they had files – the filing cabinet was called ‘unused documents’, I believe it was. They were actually the best evidence, including the photographs of Sean’s restraint.”

In 2012, an inquest jury found officers had used “unsuitable” force, placing “unnecessary body weight” on Sean, and that the failings of police had “more than minimally” contributed to his death.

The family fought on and as a result of the damning inquest verdict, two independent reviews were launched by the police and the IPCC.

In 2015, a Metropolitan Police officer was charged with perjury but unanimously acquitted by a jury. Then the Met brought disciplinary action against five officers, but in 2019 they too were cleared of misconduct over Sean’s death.

But Marcia has now revealed to HuffPost UK that there is additional footage from the custody suite – which she believes shows race was a factor in her brother’s death.

“Racism is there,” she says, “when you hear the rest of the custody suite [clip] because it’s only a short clip in the public domain.

“We have over an hour of custody suite, of what happened on the night, which I’ve never revealed and neither have they – they wouldn’t.”

Marcia Rigg leaves the High Court after attending a hearing
Marcia Rigg leaves the High Court after attending a hearing
John Stillwell/PA Archive

Marcia is now considering her next steps. “What I want is for the case to be reopened,” she says. “That’s my aim. That’s what should happen based on the evidence, but I do not know how that will happen.”

More widely, she says the stereotype of the “superhuman Black man” is pervasive among police forces, and that racial stereotyping is part of the systemic prejudice faced by Black people at the hands of officers.

“What I do now is to try to show the disproportionality of Black men that die in this way,” she says. “And why is that? That is because they fear Black men.

“The perception that they are violent and big and strong and dangerous – big, bad and dangerous, superhuman strength – is bullshit because we are not madder than anybody else and we’re not stronger than anybody else. The reality is that they [Black men] are in fear, because these police can kill them, and they do.”

Marcia has campaigned tirelessly in memory of the brother she still remembers vividly.

“My brother was lovely, charming, intelligent,” she says. “He was a musician. He was a dancer. He was a martial art person. Most people didn’t know that Sean suffered with mental health [problems] because he managed it as well as you can.

“He was an amazing person and I would not want my brother to be remembered, and neither would he want to be remembered, as another Black man in the mental health system that was killed by police.”

Sean is remembered by his sister as 'an amazing person' who should not have died when he did
Sean is remembered by his sister as 'an amazing person' who should not have died when he did
Supplied by Marcia Rigg

The impact of deaths like these on families is hard to overstate.

On the day Sean died, Marcia was in Birmingham. She had travelled on the spur of the moment after having a strong impulse to visit her father’s grave. Marcia says she suffered a visceral pain at the exact moment Sean died.

“I felt this pain to the point at one stage where I was on the floor holding my chest and I didn’t know why,” she says. “And it wasn’t until later that night when we got the call from my sister that the police had come and said that Sean had died.

“And when I did go to my father’s grave the next morning, I had to put two roses and two cards and I was devastated. I lied on his grave and I cried.

“And then I had to come back right away and changed my ticket to come back to London – and since then, I haven’t stopped.”

The ceaseless campaigning has taken a huge toll, but Marcia says it has been important for her to face the officers involved over the years.

“I want to face them because I don’t know how they sleep at night, because there are many times that we couldn’t and my mother couldn’t,” she says.

“You know, she had to look at her son who was unrecognisable, because he was decomposed after seven weeks. And you know I’ll never forget that picture, so we suffer from post-traumatic stress.”

Marcia Rigg (left) campaigning over her brother's death
Marcia Rigg (left) campaigning over her brother's death
Migrant Media -

One result of Sean’s case is that all police vans are now equipped with CCTV cameras.

But Sean died in similar circumstances to more recent high-profile cases, such as those of Kevin Clarke and Olaseni Lewis, which leaves Marcia questioning whether any lessons were really learned – and fuels her continued fight.

“Sean should not have died on that day,” she says. “After all these years, my question is: ‘Why are we here? What lessons have actually been learned?’

“Because Sean should not have died at that time. He was suffering a mental health crisis and mental health does not kill you.”

The death of Mikey Powell

Both Marcia Rigg and Janet Alder have won small grants from the National Mikey Powell Memorial Family Fund, which received £64,000 in donations after the death of George Floyd and is now running regular rounds of allocations to families.

Mikey Powell is another British man whose death has chilling echoes of Floyd’s.

The 38-year-old was in mental health crisis when he died after being restrained by West Midlands Police on September 7, 2003.

He worked as a team leader in a local metal factory and was a father of three young children – described as “a family man with a huge smile” and “the last person you would have thought this could happen to”.

Mikey Powell, who died aged 38, is remembered as 'a family man with a huge smile'
Mikey Powell, who died aged 38, is remembered as 'a family man with a huge smile'
Supplied by Mikey Powell's family

His cousin, the famous poet Benjamin Zephaniah, has campaigned on the issue of deaths in police custody for many years.

Benjamin says it is a harrowing feature in some cases – including Mikey’s – that a family member is the one to make the initial call to police.

“It’s very sad, the background of the story, when you think about the fact it was his mother that called the police,” he says of Mikey’s death. “This actually happened quite a few times with people, especially when there’s a mental health issue.”

Mikey’s mum had rung for help during a previous episode during which her son had gone onto a roof in the middle of the day and a police officer had gently talked him down.

On the day he died, the 38-year-old was unwell and had smashed a window at his mother’s home in the Lozells area of Birmingham, prompting her to seek help again.

“So his mother thought if she called police again he’d probably get the same police officer, but the difference is now it’s probably 11 o’clock at night and the police are in a completely different mode,” says Benjamin. “There’s no nice lady to come and talk to Mikey. They come in the mode they come when they get Black people in the middle of the night.”

Mikey's mother Clarissa Powell at a vigil for her son
Mikey's mother Clarissa Powell at a vigil for her son
Ken Fero –

Mikey’s friend Michelle Kelly, 42, from Lozells, who has campaigned alongside the family for many years, describes the horrific events that followed.

“So they just called code red,” she says. “They didn’t really have a grasp of what was happening. But once they got to the property, they didn’t really engage with the family to communicate and understand.”

Instead of an ambulance being called, officers tried to subdue Mikey by hitting him with a police vehicle. He was restrained on the ground and hit with a police baton before being bundled into the back of a police van.

“They used quite a significant amount of CS gas on Mikey,” says Michelle. “They reversed the police car that knocked him down. Reversed it so they could build up more traction before they hit him.”

Michelle says it was heard at the inquest that her friend had weighed just 9st 2lbs.

“You think of the slight man that he was – and the amount of officers that were pinning him down, his arms, his legs,” she says.

In a damning narrative verdict six years later, the inquest jury found the way Mikey was restrained had resulted in his death.

“He died of asphyxiation, probably by a foot on the neck, just like George Floyd,” says Benjamin. “The only difference is a foot rather than a knee. So the conclusion was that he was killed by police officers, but we don’t know which one, so nobody was charged.”

The video of George Floyd’s death brought back painful memories.

“I remember seeing that video and then immediately I thought of Mikey, because his last words were also, we think: ‘I can’t breathe,’” says the 63-year-old. “And do you know that he was also crying for his mum? And so immediately it all came back.”

Mikey's cousin Tippa Naphtali and sister Sieta Lambrias speaking at a memorial event
Mikey's cousin Tippa Naphtali and sister Sieta Lambrias speaking at a memorial event
Mikey Powell Campaign

Today, Benjamin and his brother Tippa Naphtali are long-standing campaigners, with Tippa returning from London to Birmingham in 2005 after his cousin’s death to take up the fight for justice, and establishing the Mikey Powell fund in 2015.

Tippa says he is determined Mikey’s life and death will be remembered and have a lasting legacy. He has worked with West Midlands Police to set up street triage teams so officers and medics who are trained in mental health support are dispatched to people in crisis.

“Mikey’s death has shaped everything that I’ve done over the last 15 years,” says Tippa, 59.

“And what we’ve achieved is amazing. For me that’s why I do it because I want to see these deaths stop, and I want to see the families who have lost loved ones looked after, it’s as simple as that.”

But the family has suffered deeply over the years. Benjamin says Mikey’s mother, Clarissa Powell, has never recovered.

“Auntie Clarice – god, she was cool, you know?” he says. “And then to see her now, she’s just a broken woman. She’s not the same person.”

Like other families, Mikey’s relatives fought through official channels for years. In 2005, 10 officers were charged with misconduct or dangerous driving but cleared of wrongdoing the following year. No charges were ever brought in relation to Mikey’s death itself.

In 2007, the IPCC decided not to pursue disciplinary charges against officers. Two years later, the inquest was heard. Then in 2018 West Midlands Police paid compensation to the family.

During the inquest, Mikey’s mother said she believed her son died as a result of racist behaviour by the police.

Michelle says one disturbing statistic shows just how disproportionately some Black communities are affected by deaths in police custody. Three men from her home area of Lozells have died, including Mikey.

Brothers (from left) Dave Springer, Tippa Naphtali and Benjamin Zephaniah campaigning over their cousin Mikey's death
Brothers (from left) Dave Springer, Tippa Naphtali and Benjamin Zephaniah campaigning over their cousin Mikey's death
Ken Fero –

“Three people in the space of a few hundred metres that are impacted,” she says. “You know, some people will go all their lives and not experience this or know anyone who’s been involved by this. They’re all people that locally we know.

“It kind of makes you fill up. To think that you could be a colour and that colour could mean that you are at risk, to such an extent, of losing your life for no reason is scary. You know, it’s something we live with.”

She also says there is a huge imbalance for the families trying to fight these cases who experience “multiple layers of injustice”.

“In a lot of those cases, you can’t even get legal aid to fight your battle to get justice,” she says. “So it’s almost like a double whammy. Not only have you taken away our loved one – because of the racism and the way the system is, we can’t even fight for justice because we’re so poor.”

She warns more robust training is vitally necessary for police forces across the country in how to deal with people suffering from mental health crises so they are not criminalised.

“I think Mikey’s death first and foremost tells me it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what job you do – you can be unwell and you can end up dead because you need help and support,” she says.

“He would have been the last person that I would have thought this could have happened to, because he wasn’t a violent man, he didn’t get into trouble with the police.

“If it can happen to Mikey, it can happen to anyone. For me, that really opened my eyes to that. You just never in a million years would have expected him to have ended up dead.”

Mikey's friend Michelle Kelly says three men from her home area of Lozells in Birmingham have died in police custody
Mikey's friend Michelle Kelly says three men from her home area of Lozells in Birmingham have died in police custody
Supplied by Michelle Kelly

Benjamin believes Mikey’s case should be reopened based on the evidence, but says he does not know how that will happen.

Asked what the family is fighting for, he says: “I guess I’m hesitating because I’m trying to find a form of words that says something more than ‘we just want justice’. We want the same as it would be if it was the other way around.

“You know, if there were four Black people surrounding one copper and a copper died, they would all be suspects, or they would be held under joint enterprise.

“I think this is at the heart of the Black liberation struggle in Britain, and you could say the same for America and other places too – but we’re talking about Britain.

“We don’t want anything special, we just want equal rights and justice. If you don’t get justice there’s no peace. We will keep coming out on the streets until we get it.”

The death of Lloyd Butler

Although the figures show there is a huge disparity in the number of Black deaths in police custody, the problem does not only affect Black men.

Others who are potentially labelled by police as troublemakers or alcoholics, or who have mental health issues, are vulnerable too – as the death of Lloyd Butler shows.

Lloyd’s death on August 4, 2010 is another case that begins with his own mother initially calling the police.

“I just got a bit concerned that something was not right,” says Jan Butler, now 73, of Tile Cross in Birmingham. “Obviously, looking back on it, what I should have done is called an ambulance. I decided to call the police.”

Lloyd Butler died in police custody in August 2010
Lloyd Butler died in police custody in August 2010
Supplied by Jan Butler

Jan had become concerned about Lloyd’s behaviour. The 39-year-old was acting oddly and refused to leave the family car, making punching movements at the windscreen.

Although he had a history of alcoholism, Jan is adamant Lloyd – a father himself – was not drunk that day. She believes he may have suffered a reaction to a new medication he was taking to help treat the problem.

A number of officers arrived. “He got inside the van,” says Jan, “and that was the last I saw of him.”

Lloyd was taken to Stechford Police Station instead of hospital, where evidence heard at Lloyd’s inquest would show an alarming level of neglect.

The jury watched CCTV footage of officers laughing, joking and swearing while they were supposed to be keeping constant checks on Lloyd.

The hearing was also told officers made personal phone calls and visited web pages “where women were offering sex”, and one officer made improper entries into the custody record alleging they were checking on Lloyd more often than they actually were.

More CCTV footage showed officers dragging Lloyd out of the police van by his legs.

The inquest jury concluded that, had Lloyd been on a monitor in A&E at the time he had a heart attack rather than in a police cell, he would likely have survived.

“The truth is that Lloyd was badly neglected and if they’d sent him straight to hospital, he would be alive today,” says Jan.

Lloyd's mother Jan Butler at a campaign rally holding a picture of her only son
Lloyd's mother Jan Butler at a campaign rally holding a picture of her only son
Supplied by Jan Butler

“We had a specialist at the inquest, a doctor, and he said Lloyd was fit and healthy. He’d got no heart problems, he’d got no issues, he was 39 years of age. If he had been to hospital and maybe not gone to the police station, or gone to the police station and gone straight to hospital, he felt that he would have survived.”

In a familiar pattern, the family has been through inquest proceedings, attempts to force the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to bring charges, and an IPCC investigation in their fight for justice and accountability.

The IPCC said the way Lloyd had been treated “showed a disregard for human decency” and referred the case to the CPS.

But the CPS decided the officers’ actions “did not meet the threshold for prosecution”.

At a police misconduct hearing in 2013, the custody sergeant was found guilty of gross misconduct, and two others guilty of misconduct.

It brought little comfort for Lloyd’s mother.

“Lloyd’s my only child, so it was just driving me insane,” she says. “How can they get away with just not doing their job properly, that’s all. They couldn’t help him, and he must have been asking for help. They didn’t check him. They didn’t have anything happen to them. There was no justice.”

Jan is haunted by the decision she made to call the police that day.

“I look at myself for not phoning an ambulance, and that really upsets you,” she says. “You think: I know I didn’t kill him, but I could have saved him.

“I could have saved him all that, and then we’d have gone down a completely different road. You walk around with that, knowing that everybody knows that. I’d always been there for Lloyd, to help him, save him, but that day I didn’t.”

Jan never saw her son again after her was driven away in a police van
Jan never saw her son again after her was driven away in a police van
Supplied by Jan Butler

Jan has never been able to face watching the footage showing Lloyd in the police cell.

“My niece, before I received a copy of it, went to view it with one of our solicitors, and she sat down and watched the lot,” she says. “And she said: ‘Auntie Jan, never, ever see it. Never, ever see it, because that tells the story when you see that.’ And so I have got it, locked away here. I’ve never watched it.”

But as with other cases it would prove crucial in establishing in the chain of events that led to Lloyd’s death.

For many years Jan went to protest marches and campaigned over deaths in police custody.

Asked if she has been able to find any closure, she says: “That word never, never happens. It never happens because some days I’ve only got to smell a certain smell, or hear certain music or something takes me right back to Lloyd.

“I think it’s almost like there is actually like a big knot that’s always there. It’s like something has gone, a part of your personality. A big chunk of it is gone. You’re not the person you were, but you don’t want to appear miserable, that miserable old lady that’s grieving for her son. So you still want to be the person you are – but it does, it robs your character.”

Jan speaking at a film screening in 2014
Jan speaking at a film screening in 2014
Kenny Tran, Migrant Media -

But Lloyd has “two beautiful sons”, she says, who are now aged 30 and 23. “They’re two lovely well-grounded young men. So he left a mark and he was very proud.”

Jan has also received a grant from the Mikey Powell fund, which she is using to spruce up the garden that was lovingly tended by Lloyd’s father, Ralph, until his death.

“I’m determined this year, because Ralph always had it looking beautiful,” she says.

“Ralph died three years ago in April and there’s two men in my life who are really important to me and they’re not here. But I know it’s part of life.

“Ralph wouldn’t want me to be unhappy and Lloyd wouldn’t want me to be unhappy. And you really do have to try and convince yourself that they are in a better place now.”

The bigger picture

The statistics tell their own story.

To date there have been 1,784 deaths in police custody or following contact with police in England and Wales since the charity INQUEST began recording data in 1990.

Over the same time, there have only been 10 cases where murder or manslaughter charges have been brought against police officers. And in all cases, trials have collapsed or officers have been acquitted by the jury.

Despite a major independent review three years ago, the annual number of deaths – 38 last year – is similar to what it was a decade ago.

There are also damning statistics showing how people of different races are treated unequally – such as Home Office data showing that Black people are subject to 16% of all the use of force by police, despite comprising 3% of the population.

INQUEST’s research estimates that the deaths of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in custody are three times as likely to involve restraint as the deaths of white people in custody.

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, said: “INQUEST has documented a long history of Black people disproportionately dying following use of force and neglect by police, particularly those experiencing mental ill health.

“Inquests frequently uncover discriminatory treatment which is rooted in racial stereotypes of the violent and dangerous ‘big Black man’, rather than the relevant training or procedures.

“There is an urgent need for structural and cultural change in policing, mental health and healthcare services. One which ends the reliance on police to respond to public health issues, and which confronts the reality of institutional racism in our public services.”

<br><br><br><br><strong>Source: INQUEST</strong>


Humberside Police and South Yorkshire Police did not comment when contacted by HuffPost UK.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “The death of Sean Rigg is a matter of regret for the Met along with the additional stress suffered by the Rigg family caused by the delay in bringing matters to a timely conclusion.

“We have thoroughly reviewed what happened in this case to learn how we can expedite matters in future while maintaining a full, thorough and transparent process.”

Chf Supt Dave Twyford, head of professional standards at West Midlands Police, said: “Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of Michael Powell and Lloyd Butler. We acknowledge that their pain, anger and disappointment with us is not forgotten.

“We will never lose sight of the fact that they died while in our care.”

He added that “crucial lessons have been learned from these tragic cases” which have led to changes in the way the force carries out it duties.

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) said it could not comment on individual cases.

But it pointed HuffPost UK to a press release from March this year announcing police leaders’ commitment to a plan of action to build a more inclusive police service, and “address negative disparities for Black people interacting with, or working in, policing”.

The NPCC said a supporting programme will be run for at least two years to deliver the plan and it continues to consult on actions that will be included.

NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said: “The legitimacy of UK policing is built on relationships between the police and the public, but levels of trust and confidence are significantly lower among some Black people and racial disparities exist that we cannot fully explain.

“These disparities persist despite the strengths of British society, and the fact that policing is more inclusive, more diverse and more reflective of our communities than we have ever been.

“We are committed to a programme of change to make policing fairer, more inclusive, and, ultimately, more effective.”

For more information on how you can support the National Mikey Powell Memorial Family Fund, please visit its official website or donate here. Readers can also donate to the Justice for the Family of Christopher Alder crowdfunding campaign or visit the United Families & Friends Campaign which supports those affected by deaths in custody.

Before You Go