For 20 years, Ann Power has fought to find out what happened on the day her husband died in a high speed police pursuit in 1997. Today, the High Court will publish its judgment granting a fresh inquest into Onese Power’s death.
The judgment quashes the inconclusive 'Open Verdict' given by the first inquest jury in 1998. In that inquest, the jury heard evidence of an alleged contact between a pursuing police car and Onese's motorbike. Since then, a suppressed report has revealed that the Met investigated an expert whose influential evidence was presented to the coroner’s court.
Today’s judgment decided it was in the interests of justice to order a fresh inquest due to the deficiencies of the first inquest.
The deficiencies of the first inquest are striking. They include the police’s refusal to disclose witness statements to Ann Power, denying her the opportunity to properly question officers on their identical accounts of the pursuit and collision.
Other deficiencies include a failure to investigate marks on the police car that could have been caused by impact with the motorbike. Additionally, the police car left tyre marks at the scene but was later tested at lesser speeds of 30-40mph instead of the 50-60mph the officers claimed they were travelling at the time of braking.
It is a travesty that Ann Power faced institutional defensiveness and obstruction by the police when she was at her most vulnerable. Unrepresented, she faced an experienced barrister acting for the police at the public expense. The process was disempowering and traumatising. There is every chance that at the new inquest, Ann will face a similar situation if she does not receive public funding for legal representation. Last week the Chief Coroner called for bereaved families to receive funded representation at inquests where state agencies receive funded representation. Implementing this change is a matter of urgency for bereaved families.
The judgment shows the enormous public interest in fully and fearlessly investigating deaths involving police. It states:
“It will be open to a new jury to return a narrative verdict which, it is to be hoped, would bring a measure of closure for the claimant, who for twenty years has fought tenaciously on behalf of her husband.”
It is imperative that the police act with openness and integrity during the new inquest and that the inquest takes place as a matter of urgency. Onese’s family have waited long enough.
Leslie Thomas QC of Garden Court Chambers and Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose represented Ann Power at last month’s hearing in the High Court.