Justice for Jay Abatan – ‘an uphill struggle’

April 29, 2004

Written by Harmit Athwal

The family of Jay Abatan, a Black man who was murdered in Brighton in 1999, are still waiting to see the report into Sussex Police’s failed investigation into his death.

On 17 May 2004, Peter Bottomley MP, Jay’s family and lawyers will meet representatives of the new Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to discuss the findings of an Avon and Somerset police investigation. Yet, after five years of campaigning by the family, they will not be allowed to have a copy of the full 300-page report. Although Sussex police have publicly apologised to Jay’s family for their failings and promised to be ‘open’ to the family they are now refusing to release the full report explaining what actually went wrong.

Background

Jay Abatan, a 42-year-old Black man and father of two, died five days after being attacked by a gang outside the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton on 24 January 1999. Jay had been out with his brother and a friend celebrating a job promotion as a senior tax specialist at Price Waterhouse Coopers. They left the club and were getting into a cab when they were attacked by a group of white men. Jay did not even have the chance to take his hands out of his pockets before he was punched and kicked to the ground. He suffered severe brain damage and was pronounced dead after five days on a life support machine.

After his death, Sussex police launched an investigation and, within 24 hours, two men were arrested and charged with manslaughter. However, by the time of the trial in May 2000, the men, Graham Curtis and Peter Bell, were charged only with affray and actual bodily harm to Jay’s brother, Michael, on which they were ultimately cleared. The jury was not told that Jay had died as a result of injuries sustained during the same attack because the Judge thought it might influence the verdict.

Failed investigations

Jay’s family believe that the initial investigation into his murder by Sussex police failed to explore a racial motive for the attack and that other fundamental errors were made. This investigation was the subject of an inquiry by Essex police after Jay’s family voiced their concern publicly. The Essex police began its review for Sussex police in July 1999 and completed its report at the beginning of December 2000. Sussex police refused to disclose the full report although extracts were leaked to the press which revealed that Essex police did in fact catalogue fifty-seven failings and inconsistencies in the original investigation into Jay’s murder. These included the failure to interview or record the details of potential witnesses. Sussex police met Jay’s family and publicly apologised for not doing ‘a good job’. At the time Jay’s family asked Sussex police what had actually gone wrong and were told that they should wait for a PCA investigation to be concluded. For then, a full report would be given to the family.

In December 2000, as a result of Essex police inquiry, the original investigating team in Sussex was replaced by another team. The new head, detective superintendent Ken Probert, announced that the murder was being treated as a ‘racist killing’ – two years after it took place. And Sussex police asked the PCA to review the investigation to see whether there were grounds to discipline any of the original officers involved. Mr. Ken Jones from Avon and Somerset police was called in by the PCA to undertake this investigation. Jay’s family were also asked to add to the complaint, which they did. Jay’s family met Ken Jones in London and declined to sign a form undertaking not to disclose any confidential information. Subsequently, Ken Jones was made Chief Constable of Sussex police and another officer was assigned the task to continue the complaint investigation. On Jones taking up his new post, he met Jay’s family again and promised that Sussex police would be ‘open’ with the family. But, says the family this, unfortunately has not been the case. And Sussex police are now refusing to release a full copy of the findings by Avon and Somerset to Jay’s family. ‘We strongly feel that Sussex police are trying to suppress the full extent of failings in Operation Hurling.’.

IPCC position

David Petch, the IPCC Commissioner overseeing the investigation told IRR news that he was still waiting for a formal answer from Sussex police to a request for disclosure but added that Sussex police ‘were not minded to hand it over’ and that the IPCC had no powers to make them publish the report. He added that disclosure could jeopardise [possible] future disciplinary proceedings.

The family of Jay Abatan, however, feel that it is absolutely vital that the report is released in order that lessons be learnt. Michael Abatan describes the last few years as an uphill struggle and told IRR News that Jay’s murder had been the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for his father, who died eleven months after Jay was murdered. Michael promises to continue fighting for justice for his older brother. He hopes to bring together the families of those who ‘have not got justice or have had to fight for justice’ in order to lobby the government and put the issue of unsolved racial crimes back on the agenda. He strongly feels that lessons from Stephen Lawrence inquiry have yet to be effectively implemented by the criminal justice system.

Related links

Justice for Jay

IRR News story – How independent is independent?

For further information please see the Justice for Jay website or e-mail Michael Abatan: abatanm@hotmail.com

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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