Who was Olaseni Lewis?
Olaseni Lewis, known as Seni to his family and friends, was an IT graduate. He was 23 years old when he died in hospital on 3 September 2010. Seni died because of prolonged restraint, when he was held down by 11 police officers while he was a patient in a mental health hospital.
Below is a statement from Ajibola and Conrad Lewis, Olaseni’s parents. (2018)
“Seni had never had any mental health issues before, but over that bank holiday weekend in 2010 he seemed agitated and his behaviour became odd. We took him to A&E and, after an assessment, we were told to take him to Bethlem Royal Hospital. We took him there, to what we thought would be the best place for him to get help.
Seni agreed to stay overnight at the hospital as a voluntary patient. We were asked to leave him at the end of visiting hours, and we did so reluctantly. Shortly afterwards, he became agitated when he was stopped from leaving the hospital because he wanted to come home. The hospital staff sectioned him and called the police who came and agreed to take Seni to a seclusion room in the hospital. He was co-operative until he stopped at the threshold of the seclusion room. As soon as he stopped, the police officers pushed him inside and forced him face down to the floor.
The police officers held Seni face down, shackled his hands with two sets of handcuffs and put his legs in two sets of restraints. They held him down like that over a period of 45 minutes altogether, in a restraint they knew was dangerous, until he went limp. And even then, instead of treating him as a medical emergency, they simply walked away: they believed he was faking it! They left our son on the floor of a locked room, all but dead. All of this happened in the presence of hospital staff including nurses and a doctor who stood by and looked on, unable or unwilling to intervene. Seni never regained consciousness and died four days later. That is how we lost our beloved son.
At the inquest into his death, the jury found Seni died as a result of excessive, disproportionate and unreasonable restraint and force. To this day, we struggle to comprehend that our son died as he did, simply because those who were responsible for his care – police officers and medical staff alike – failed in their duty to treat him with the respect that he deserved as a human being.
In a signed statement after these events, one doctor described how the officers treated our son, “I felt like it wasn’t a human being that they were trying to restrain. It was like trying to contain an animal after they had tied him up with the straps. It seemed like when a hunter had tied the animal. It was an uneasy feeling that I had that it was not a human being that they were restraining. That is how he was seen and treated at that point: as an animal, rather than a petrified young man, terrified at the prospect of being put in a padded seclusion room.”
What was the legal implication?
Six Police Officers involved in the death of Olaseni Lewis were cleared of any wrongdoing. PC Simon Smith, PC Michael Aldridge, PC Stephen Boyle, DC Laura Curran, PC Ian Simpson and PC James Smith had denied a number of allegations of misconduct and gross misconduct over the death of Olaseni Lewis in September 2010.
However, the inquest into Olaseni Lewis’s death found that the restraint used by the officers was “disproportionate and unreasonable” and contributed to his death. Despite this, no officers faced criminal charges.
In response to Olaseni’s death the government passed The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act, also known as ‘Seni’s Law’, in honour of his memory.
The aim of the act was to raise awareness about the physical and psychiatric risks involved in the use of force, and to ensure clear record-keeping about incidents of restraint lead to a system of increased transparency and more effective accountability, which should ultimately create a safer environment for patients.
If you want to find out more about other victims of police and state violence in the UK, click here.
The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where use of force is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody.