UPDATE: The inquest has been postponed and will resume on Wednesday 13 January 2021.
Before Senior Coroner for Bedfordshire and Luton, Emma Whitting
Opens 9.15am 4 January 2021, expected to last six weeks
Leon Briggs was 39 years old when he died on 4 November 2013. He had been detained under the Mental Health Act (section 136), and died following restraint by Bedfordshire police officers at the scene and at Luton Police Station. Seven years on, the six-week inquest into Leon’s death will begin on 4 January 2021.
Leon had a mixed ethnic background, was from Luton and was a father to two children. His family describe him as “a loving brother and father, caring and genuine”. In addition to his day job as a lorry driver, he taught computer skills to the elderly.
On 4 November 2013, police were called following reports of a man behaving unusually in the street. When officers arrived, they restrained Leon and detained him under the Mental Health Act. East of England Ambulance Service arrived shortly after. Leon was then transported in the back of a police van to Luton Police Station and placed in a cell. Leon became unresponsive and an ambulance was called to take him to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The inquest will explore the actions of the police and ambulance service and whether their actions were appropriate, caused or contributed to Leon’s death.
The inquest follows an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the IPCC, which was subsequently replaced by the Independent Office for Police Conduct or IOPC). In 2016 they referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether manslaughter charges should be brought against the officers involved in Leon’s death. In 2018, the CPS confirmed no further action would be taken.
In February a gross misconduct hearing was due to take place to consider allegations against three officers for breaching professional standards concerning the use of force, and against five officers for breaching standards relating to duties and responsibilities. However, the IOPC had to withdraw the directions of misconduct after Bedfordshire police force said they would not present any evidence against its officers.
Margaret Briggs, mother of Leon Briggs said: “It has been over seven long years of delays and excuses. Enough is enough. It is my belief that, if Leon had been fairly treated by the Police, he would still be with us today. Leon was a loving father and our family need answers, which we hope this inquest can provide.”
Jocelyn Cockburn of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors said “It is now over 7 years since Leon’s death and the fact that it has taken this long to hold a public inquest into his death is in itself a miscarriage of justice. This delay has impacted on a family still struggling to come to terms with the tragic death of a loved one. The need for public scrutiny in this case is acute. The truth of what happened to Leon must come out and the right lessons must be learned. This will be extremely difficult for Leon’s family and my thoughts are with them during the 6 weeks of this inquest.”
Gimhani Eriyagolla of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors said: “This year, we’ve seen terrible injustices towards black people come under scrutiny in the media, specifically surrounding the Police’s treatment of black people. Sadly, Leon is another victim of these systemic issues faced by many, and we hope that this inquest provides some of the answers that Leon’s family desperately need and deserve, so lessons can be learnt and tragic cases such as this can be prevented.”
Anita Sharma, Head of Casework at INQUEST said: “The dangers of restraint are well documented, particularly when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. We find ourselves in yet another inquest of a black man who died following police use of force. Leon’s family have endured seven years of protracted investigations and legal processes that simply are not fit for purpose. They now turn to the inquest to provide the utmost scrutiny of the circumstances of his death.”
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