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Sheku Bayoh custody death officers 'to retire on medical grounds'

SPA ordered to reconsider decision within 30 days

Two officers left traumatised after they feared being killed during the controversial arrest and custody death of gas engineer Sheku Bayoh in 2015 have won the right to retire early on medical grounds.

Constables Nicole Short and Alan Paton were forced to take their fight to the Court of Session in Edinburgh after the Scottish Police Authority refused them permission to stand down.

A ruling was published earlier this week by Lord Stephen Woolman who ordered the SPA to reconsider their decision within 30 days.

The judgment revealed PC Short, 32, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and was now “permanently disabled from undertaking the ordinary duties of a police officer”.

Her 44-year-old colleague has reportedly received extensive psychological counselling and his grounds for retirement have been supported by a psychiatrist.

Mr Bayoh, who moved to the UK from Sierra Leone at the age of 11, died shortly after being detained by police in Kirkcaldy in Fife on May 3, 2015.

The Police Scotland officers had been called to the Templehall area of the town after calls reporting that a man was seen behaving erratically with a knife.

The judgment included an account of the morning by Ms Short, who said she feared “a murder was about to place”.

She also described Mr Bayoh, 31, as being “like a zombie” and his “eyes were totally black”.

She said that despite him being hit with CS and PAVA spray, batons,  leg restraints and handcuffs, he reacted by “laughing and wiping it away from his eyes like it was just water”.

Her statement said: “Mr Bayoh’s muscles were bulging and he looked aggressive. He was not listening to their commands and looked very intimidating.

“He appeared out of control and dangerous and given the reports of him chasing people with a knife as well as his demeanour and the way he didn’t react to the sprays, I felt that he could not be permitted to leave.

“I was terrified that he was going to kill a member of the public if he was allowed to leave the street, which is what he was trying to do.

“I still fully believed that he had a knife in his possession.

“I issued Mr Bayoh with verbal instructions and commands to stop by shouting, ‘stop … stay where you are, put your hands behind your back, get down on your knees’. He ignored me.”

PC Short told how another colleague again used spray on Bayoh but it continued to have no effect, prompting her to draw her police baton as he allegedly walked towards her.

She continued: “I swiped my baton at him whilst he was skipping towards me to try to show him that I was serious and that he needed to stop.

“I swiped towards the middle of his body and I completely missed him. Mr Bayoh was now so close to me that he was right in my face and I decided to turn around and run.

“I was screaming at this point and desperate to get away from him. I screamed ‘NOOOOO’. I knew that he was chasing me, and I knew that he was right behind me.

“I could hear him behind me and I knew from what he had said and the way he had moved towards me that he was going to hammer me.

“I felt an enormous blow to the back of my head over to the lower right side. I went flying. My feet actually left the ground and I landed on the ground almost at the other side of the road.”

She was taken to hospital before returning to Kirkcaldy police station later the same day.

Mr Bayoh was discovered to be unconscious and an officer radioed for an ambulance. Five minutes later, an officer noticed that he was no longer breathing, and although the officers attempted CPR, Mr Bayoh arrived by ambulance at the Victoria Hospital – unresponsive.

He was pronounced dead a short time later.

Both PC Short, who has nine years’ service, and PC Paton, who has served for 17 years, have both been off long-term sick since and had asked to retire.

The Scottish Police Authority refused their application until it was known if either of the two would face criminal proceedings following the incident.

But Lord Woolman found their decision was “irrational” and that no one had suggested the officers were culpable to any degree in respect of the incident.

He said: “I conclude that the SPA’s reasons do not add up.  There is an unabridged gap between the alleged involvement of the officers in a high profile incident and the conclusion that it was in the public interest that they should be prevented from retiring.

“I also hold that, as the counterpart, the SPA failed to take into account the relevant consideration that the officers have never been told that they may face proceedings.”

The Scottish Police Federation, which represented both officers through solicitor advocate Peter Watson, confirmed the SPA had made its final decision.

Deputy general secretary David Kennedy said: “We welcome the decision by the SPA, which makes clear these officers suffered significant injury in the execution of their duties and qualify to retire on grounds of ill-health.

“We continue to support all officers involved in these tragic events and hope that a date for a fatal accident inquiry or a public inquiry is set so all the facts can be judicially determined.”

Mr Watson added: “The Scottish Police Authority undertook to follow the directions of the court that required them to re-examine their decision within 30 days.

“In fairness to the SPA, they dealt with that quickly and, as at 5pm on Thursday, I was advised that the decision had been made to grant ill-health retirement. This is a great relief to the officers concerned, both of whom continue to suffer serious ill-health issues.

“We are anxious to get to a judicial inquiry as quickly as possible for the interests of everyone, including Mr Bayoh’s family, but also for the officers.

“What has to be remembered is that during this period of time, because they are serving officers, they have not been able to engage or respond to a constant stream of media comments.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Police Authority said it had reviewed the decision as instructed by Lord Woolman but was unable to comment further at this stage.

At the time of death in detention incident, Aamer Anwar, the solicitor acting on behalf of Mr Bayoh’s family, said: “It is a matter of wider public concern that officers remain at their desks or in contact with the public pending the outcome of the investigation into a death in custody.”

Last October, the two officers were told by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service they would face no charges.