Sheku Bayoh was ‘murdered’ in police custody, friend tells inquiry

Sheku Bayoh was “murdered” by police officers, his best friend has told the inquiry into the 31-year-old’s death in custody, as he gave halting and emotional testimony on the first day of fresh evidence-gathering.

Zahid Saeed, who had known the father of two since he was 17, struggled to answer questions from Angela Grahame QC, senior counsel for the inquiry, about Bayoh’s behaviour at a party the night before his death.

Asked about a previous written statement in which he said that both had taken drugs at the party, Saeed appeared reluctant to answer questions about his friend’s behaviour. Later witnesses on Friday said Bayoh had been fighting with another man near his home in Kirkcaldy, Fife, and carrying an 8in kitchen knife.

Bayoh died after police officers responded to reports of a black man in an agitated state carrying a knife on 3 May 2015. He was hit with batons, CS spray and pepper spray, then restrained on the pavement with wrist and leg ties. A toxicology report confirmed that Bayoh had taken some drugs that night, but no bladed weapon was found.

Saeed told the hearing he has been through two traumas, explaining: “First one was my son who was killed, then my friend, who was murdered in police custody.” Saeed’s three-year-old son, Mikaeel Kular, was killed by his mother in 2014.

He went on: “The questions you should be asking is to the police officers, not me, not me.”

He said repeatedly that he wanted to complete his evidence in one day, and explain how he was treated by police officers after Bayoh’s death, “how I was held for 11 hours in police custody without offering me any liquid … how I was dehumanised”.

Grahame reassured him this experience was “part of this inquiry” but that for the purposes of Friday’s hearing the focus was on the events leading up to the police callout.

With Saeed increasingly unwilling to answer key questions abut the timeline leading up to his friend’s death, Grahame told him: “The biggest help you could be to your friend, your brother Shek, right now is to help the chair understand some of what you said in your statement … to tell the whole truth about everything that happened.”

Saeed responded: “The truth is that he was murdered in police custody, what else is there to tell?”

Eventually, Lord Bracadale, chairing the inquiry, adjourned his evidence until a later date, after Grahame said she would look into “an alternative environment or other arrangements that might permit Saeed to continue more effectively with this examination”.

Later on Friday a neighbour, Neil Morgan, described how he had encountered Bayoh, whom he described as “pleasant, friendly, a really nice guy, never no trouble”.

Morgan said he had been alerted to a disturbance in a nearby garden on 3 May at about 7.30am, and went outside to investigate, whereupon he encountered Bayoh, who “wasn’t himself” and was carrying a knife.

“I said to him: ‘You can’t go round with that knife, you’ll get done,’” Morgan said. “Then he turned around to me and he said: ‘It’s not even sharp’ and sort of poked it at my belly.”

When Grahame asked about his reaction to this, Morgan replied: “Nothing really. I certainly didn’t feel threatened by him”.

Another neighbour, Naomi Rhodes, also giving evidence, said she was woken by shouting outside her bedroom window the same morning and saw two males, one of whom was Bayoh, fighting in the street. She said that Bayoh was a “friendly-natured” neighbour, and that such behaviour was out of character.

The inquiry continues.