Monday, May 19, 2014

Police Convicted of Manslaughter

It's notoriously difficult to get police officers who kill convicted. The astonishing 2001 film Injustice documents a swathe of deaths in British police custody without officers being held to account.

Two years ago, a Greater Manchester police officer shot and killed unarmed Anthony Grainger. The Crown Prosecution Service found that there were 'serious deficiencies' in the police operation and laws were broken. They are prosecuting the Chief Constable for health and safety breaches. They are not prosecuting the officer concerned as there is not a realistic chance that a jury would convict a police officer.

Newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson died in 2009, police told us, of a heart attack as brave bobbies tried to save him under a hail of missiles thrown by G20 protesters. Then the footage came out that showed police attack him as he stood in as unthreatening a pose as humanly possible.

Ian Tomlinson's inquest jury said he was unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood's baton strike. Harwood's trial jury said he wasn't. They both work to the same standard of proof, yet they reached opposing conclusions. One of them is simply wrong.

After Simon Harwood's manslaughter acquittal his wife Helen complained that 'my husband has been branded a killer,' as if that wasn't one of the predictable side effects of killing someone.

At the same time, The Times and Radio 4's Today programme said no police officer has been convicted of the manslaughter of someone in custody since the early 1970s. They're wrong.

The most recent case I know of took place in 1986. Online, it currently gets a passing half-sentence mention in a solitary Guardian article, but that's about it. It deserves more. So I've researched the story of Sergeant Alwyn Sawyer's killing of Henry Foley in the hope that it can be googled into in future and a bit of historical accuracy restored.


On Monday 11 February 1985 Henry Foley, a 67 year old retired bus driver and widower from Pitt Street, Southport, had been playing dominoes and drinking at the town's Railway Club with his long standing friend Frederick Rigby. Describing Foley's state on leaving, Rigby said, 'he was merry. It was not my view that he was drunk'.

But outside the club Foley was arrested for being drunk and incapable and taken to the police station at the top of Lord Street shortly after midnight. Police went to release him shortly before 6am but he refused to mop up some urine in his cell, so it was decided to detain him further.

At 7am Sergeant Ivor Richardson took over as bridewell sergeant, celebrating his 25th anniversary as a police officer. At 7.40am he went to release Foley and was subjected to a sustained attack. Foley hit him in the face and he fell over, banging his head, with Foley continuing to punch and kick him. Sergeant Richardson crawled into the corridor shouting for help. Other officers rushed in, overpowered Foley, cuffed his hands behind his back and returned him to the cell.

Richardson was taken to hospital, and his duties were taken by Sergeant Alwyn Sawyer. Serving in Southport for nearly 24 years, 45 year old Sawyer had received a commendation for plain clothes work, as well as a Royal Humane Society medal for saving five men from a fire in 1978.

On the morning of 12 February 1985 Alwyn Sawyer went into Henry Foley's cell and gave him what is, by any standards, a horrific beating.

Foley was on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back. Sergeant Sawyer left him bruised on the head and chest, but it was the kicks and stamps on his abdomen that killed him. He suffered a damaged spleen, a complete rupture of the small bowel and his left kidney had entirely detached.

Two detectives later found Foley complaining of stomach pain and asking for a doctor. A police surgeon examined him around noon and sent him to hospital where his injuries brought on a massive heart attack and he died at 7.45pm.

Meanwhile, Sawyer visited Sergeant Ivor Richardson in hospital, telling his colleague, 'you are well covered and well out of it'. Two days later Richardson spoke to Sawyer on the phone, asking 'did you give Foley a good wellying?' Sawyer simply said, 'you have nothing to worry about'.


Cumbrian police were brought into investigate. Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Stainton interviewed Alwyn Sawyer 12 days after Henry Foley died. Asked if he had ever punched, kicked, stood on, stamped on or kneeled on Foley in any way, Sawyer said, 'no, to each part of the question - I didn't go into the cell'. He had no explanation for how Foley sustained the injuries, but repeatedly denied having caused any of them.

Foley's shirt had a footprint on the abdomen. Forensic examinations showed the only one at the station it could match was Alwyn Sawyer's left boot. He was charged with murder.

In April 1986, less than three months since teenager Ray Moran died in Southport police custody sparking disorder in the town, Sawyer stood trial at Manchester Crown Court. He pleaded not guilty, but did not take the witness box to offer any explanation of what happened to Henry Foley nor his part in it. No witnesses were called for the defence.

On Friday 18 April the jury took just over four hours to reach a verdict of Not Guilty of murder but Guilty of manslaughter. Mr Justice MacPherson sentenced him to seven years saying, 'This is, of course, a tragic day for you, but this was a gross act'.

Henry Foley's daughter Collette Major praised the investigating officers from Cumbria police. Citing family members who were police officers, she said, 'the enquiry was the sort of policing you are brought up to believe in when you are a little child'.


I have to wonder, if Sawyer was so ready to unleash such a terrible attack on a defenceless prisoner, is this likely to have been the first time he assaulted a someone in custody? Which other officers also knew of the attack and/or others like it?

More than that, I wonder, if I tied a pensioner's hands behind his back and kicked him to death with such fury that I detached a kidney, then denied it until faced with irrefutable proof, then still didn't actually admit it, what would happen? Would I only get seven years? Would the judge pass sentence with words of pity for me rather than my victim?

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Boot Print on Dead Man's Shirt,
Southport Visiter, 11 April 1986

Pensioner Died After 'Brutal Police Assault',
The Guardian, 10 April 1986

Accused Sergeant: Verdict is Near,
Southport Visiter, 18 April 1986

Police Sergeant is Gaoled for Killing Prisoner,
The Guardian, 19 April 1986

Seven Years for Killing Prisoner,
Midweek Visiter, 23 April 1986

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