No justice secretary intervention over Sheku Bayoh custody death

Justice secretary Michael Matheson MSP
Justice secretary Michael Matheson MSP

Justice secretary Michael Matheson will not intervene in the police investigation into the death of Sheku Bayoh and has rejected calls for the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) to be given new statutory powers.

The justice secretary was responding to concerns raised about the investigation into Mr Bayoh’s death in the custody of police in Kirkcaldy on Sunday 3 May.

Officers involved in the incident were not willing to agree to give statements to PIRC until this week, leading some campaigners to call for PIRC to be given stronger powers to compel officers to give evidence.

The extra powers would put PIRC in line with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in England and Wales.

Aamer Anwar, the solicitor for Mr Bayoh’s family, told BBC News: “The government should have the courage to accept that there is a case to answer and to extend PIRC’s powers, putting them on a par with their English counterparts at the IPCC.

“It really does not make sense that PIRC can only exercise its full range of powers when directed by the Chief Constable but not when directed by the Lord Advocate.”

PIRC said it had to make “several attempts” to secure statements from the arresting officers.

Labour MSP Claire Baker said “the current legislation, regulations and the guidance appear to create an environment where it is possible for key information not to be shared at key moments in the investigation”.

The justice secretary admitted that “PIRC have repeatedly advised the Bayoh family of their frustrations at their lack of powers”, but said it was “not for public servants such as PIRC to ask for changes in the law”.

He added: “To date, we have not received any representation from PIRC in relation to their particular powers.”

He also told The Courier that he would not comment on Mr Bayoh’s death until the investigation was concluded.

The Scottish Police Federation said in a statement that it was “saddened that legal representatives are inferring police officers should not have the same legal protections as any other member of the public”.

The body, which represents 98 per cent of police officers in Scotland, added: “We make no apology for standing up for the rights of police officers and we continue to extend to the family and friends of Mr Bayoh our sincere condolences.”