i have been appointed as the Chair of the new Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody. This is a new body reporting to the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department of Health which will produce expert advice on measures to be taken to reduce the number of people who die each year in the custody of the state. It will build on the work of the Forum on Preventing Deaths in Custody. I will start work on this in the New Year with a view to having the Panel established by April 2009.
My knowledge of these issues stems from my involvement in three high profile cases involving deaths following police action or in custody during my time as an elected councillor in the London Borough of Haringey: the death of Cynthia Jarrett in 1985 which precipitated the Broadwater Farm riots; the death of Joy Gardner in 1993; and the death of Roger Sylvester in 1999. In the case of Joy Gardner, I had meetings with her family, attended her funeral as the Leader of the Council, attended public meetings on the case and had meetings with the police to discuss it. In the case of Roger Sylvester, I was Leader of the Council at the time of his death and met with the family, attended public meetings and had meetings with the police. The involvement continued, when I became Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, as the long saga of the mishandled subsequent investigations unwound, with the eventual inquest and the judicial review of the verdict.
As Chair of the Police Authority, I also conducted a number of hearings with families of those involved in death in custody issues, held meetings on good practice in custody, which included discussions of cell design and custody suite arrangements, availability of medical/nursing support and mental health issues. A series of meetings were also held to discuss the handling of investigations after such cases and the support provided to the families involved.
The issues surrounding such deaths are never easy. The human rights and other considerations were examined thoroughly by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the structure for advising on these matters was reviewed in a report by Robert Fulton.