Kirsten Heaven acts in inquest that records narrative verdict critical of the Metropolitan Police Service

Friday 1 April 2011

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On 11 March 2011 at the culmination of a five-day inquest into the death of Jianping Liu, a jury at West London Coroners Court found that Ms Liu took her own life. In a narrative verdict they recorded that prior to releasing Ms Liu from police custody, officers at Heathrow carried out an inadequate pre-release assessment which did not take into account all relevant facts required by Notice 21 (a Metropolitan Police Notice on risk assessing detainees prior to release from police custody). However, the jury felt they could not say whether this failure contributed to Ms Liu's death.

Ms Liu was a Chinese national settled in the UK with her husband. She suffered from mental health problems including depression and on the day preceding her death was found by officers wandering around Heathrow Airport without a passport. She was arrested for being a suspected overstayer/illegal immigrant and taken to Heathrow Police Station where she was detained overnight. Despite clear evidence that Ms Liu could not properly understand English, a translator was not called. Ms Liu was seen by a doctor at the police station who carried out a risk assessment but without access to a translator. It was felt that Ms Liu was at risk of self-harm and of low mood. It was suspected that Ms Liu was a victim of trafficking. The following morning after police had confirmed that Ms Liu was lawfully in the UK and had been granted leave to remain (a fact not known to Ms Liu) she was released from police custody in a matter of minutes, again without a translator being called to explain what had happened. CCTV footage showed Ms Liu as unresponsive on being told she was being released and not appearing to understand. On leaving the police station Ms Liu was seen wandering around Heathrow Airport rifling through drains and she was then accosted by BAA security staff who surrounded her and subjected her to taunts and bullying. Shortly afterwards Ms Liu fell from an airport bridge and died.

The inquest heard that there was limited access to translation facilities at Heathrow Police Station in 2009, especially in the evening and night and that a telephone translation services (language line) was not in use at the station at that time. The inquest also heard that officers were not aware of the risk assessment tool Notice 21 at the time of Ms Liu's death (a document introduced by the Metropolitan Police following inquests into previous self-inflicted deaths of individuals shortly after leaving police custody). It was also heard that BAA conducted an internal inquiry into the incident and two staff members were disciplined.

To read the IPCC press release, click here.

To read an article on the case by written by Kirsten for the Institute of Race Relations, click here

Ms Liu's husband was represented by counsel Kirsten Heaven of Garden Court Chambers' Inquests Team. The instructing solicitor was Harriett Wistrich of Birnberg Pierce & Partners.

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