Police officers have declined to answer questions during witness interviews in an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into how a man died after being detained last month.
Eight Derbyshire police officers who were at the scene when the car David Stokes was travelling in was stopped were asked to attend interviews, as witnesses, to help the IPCC’s independent investigation into his death.
Early information provided by the police said Mr Stokes, 31, became unwell while being transferred to Chesterfield police station and died in hospital after the police van he was being carried in diverted.
In the hours after Mr Stokes’s death the officers declined to give witness accounts to the IPCC, citing fatigue and legal advice they had received. IPCC investigators therefore required officers to attend witness interviews under new powers introduced earlier this year, following public concerns at other officers not attending interviews in other cases. The officers attended but chose not to answer questions, opting instead to submit written statements afterwards.
IPCC Commissioner for Derbyshire James Dipple-Johnstone said: “It is disappointing that officers who are immediate witnesses to an incident in which a man died do not answer directly the questions asked of them by the independent body tasked with investigating the death; relying instead on prepared statements later. This reluctance to assist fully an independent inquiry by providing best evidence has the potential to undermine public confidence in the police and delays answers for the family who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
“Our investigation continues and is making progress. I would like to thank those members of the public and other police officers who have assisted us so far. We are, however, keen to hear from anyone else who may have information about what occurred. ”
A number of independent witnesses to the pre-planned police operation near Chesterfield have been spoken to by IPCC investigators, and photographs and CCTV footage obtained. The police van Mr Stokes travelled in has also been examined and returned to operational duties with the force.
The IPCC is still keen to hear from anyone who may have filmed or taken photographs of the police operation, which was carried out close to the junction of Calow Lane, Cock Alley and Hallflash Lane near the A617 at about 12.40pm on Friday 19 April.
The cause of Mr Stokes’s death has not yet been established. The results of further tests and a full post mortem result are awaited. Early reports suggest there were no external injuries that could have contributed to Mr Stokes’s death.
The IPCC is urging anyone with information to telephone 0800 096 9070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy Chief Constable Alan Goodwin said: “Derbyshire Constabulary remains committed to assisting the Independent Police Complaints Commission in its investigation into the death of Mr Stokes.
“This is an ongoing investigation and it would be inappropriate for the force to comment further.”
Mark Pickard, chairman of Derbyshire Police Federation has slammed the IPCC’s announcement as “regrettable” and says it “will leave people asking questions of the process”. He added: “Let me be very clear, all officers involved have been willing to openly and honestly help in this enquiry from the outset, in order that the family of Mr Stokes can receive answers at the earliest opportunity.
“The facts are that the incident occurred on Friday 19 procedures officers who have been through a traumatic experience should not give statements for 2 to 3 days after the incident.
“This is for the good of the enquiry and individuals concerned.
“The IPCC investigator decided how they would run the enquiry and it is those decisions and the use of their ‘new powers’ that have led to a delay in receiving statements from officers.
“Our solicitor contacted the IPCC a few days after the incident stating that the IPCC could have the officers statements within the next few days. However, the IPCC decided that the process had now started and the eight officers would be required to travel to Manchester to be asked questions on tape and then the
investigators would write the statement.
“The officers are highly trained and experienced and felt that they alone should write their own statement.
“Based on legal advice the officers listened to the questions and wrote their statements covering the areas raised.
“It is a fact that this enquiry has not been held up by the officers but by the IPCC processes and bureaucracy.
“The IPCC Commissioner should know that the best evidence he talks about could have been obtained voluntarily from the officers within days of the incident, instead the process of collating statements from witnesses has gone on longer than it should have due to ill thought out decisions, leaving Mr Stokes family waiting for answers.
“The statement issued by the IPCC leaves the officers actions open to question when in fact it is the IPCC who should look at their part in this.
“I have total confidence in the actions and professionalism of the officers involved in this whole incident.