by Daphne Liddle
AROUND 100 family friends and supporters of Paul Coker, who died in mysterious circumstances in Plumstead police station on 6th August, held a protest vigil outside the station on Tuesday evening.
The event was supported by the Families for Justice Campaign, the Uhuru Movement and Greenwich Council for Racial Equality. It attracted support from many passers-by who had been unaware of the tragedy.
Paul came from a mixed family – an African father and English mother. They were present with his girlfriend, his sisters and their children as well as uncles and aunts, all deeply shocked by Paul’s sudden, unexplained death.
He had been arrested, allegedly for causing a disturbance, subdued by several police officers and then put in a cell. The next thing the family knew was that the police were informing them that Paul was dead – with no explanation of how it happened.
The tragedy is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. While that investigation is proceeding, the police are refusing to tell the family anything. An official post mortem has been inconclusive.
Feelings ran high a few times on Tuesday evening, with some of Paul’s friends expressing their anger to the police very forcefully.
Police officers based at Plumstead Police station over 10 years ago significantly failed to arrest the racist killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
After the McPherson inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s killing, which exposed the deep-seated institutional racism of the police who dealt with the case, big changes were supposed to have happened at Plumstead police station and it seemed in recent years that relations with the local black community had been improving.
Paul Coker knew Stephen Lawrence; they had attended the same school. Paul was the son of Sam Coker, a former councillor and political activist who had been among many at an anti-racist meeting at nearby Welling library that was attacked by British National Party thugs. Sam, a former Nigerian army PT instructor, had leapt out of an upstairs window in order to grapple with a couple of fascists in the street below. Paul also kept himself very fit.
Paul Coker had won a compensation case against the police six years ago and had initiated a second legal action against the prison service, claiming he had been assaulted by a prison officer while serving a one-year sentence for burglary.
On 6th August police were called to Paul’s girlfriend’s flat because of a disturbance, the two had had a loud argument. By the time the police arrived the argument was over but 10 officers arrested Paul anyway.
Lucy, the girlfriend, said that police had barred her from the flat during the arrest. She said she could hear him screaming: “You are killing me. You are killing me,” in a way she had never heard a man scream before. Then all went quiet and the police carried Paul out. He was not struggling.
He was found dead at 6.45am but Lucy was not told until 11am and Paul’s mother was not told until 3pm.
Markhan Bajwa, who chairs GCRE, said: “Most of these deaths in custody involve young black men. I don’t know what happens when people go into a police station and end up dead. How can a fit young man go into a station and be dead within two hours?”
as long as it takes
During the picket of the police station last Tuesday there was a short ceremony as the family laid flowers by the police station entrance and their vicar said a prayer. Paul’s mother made a brief speech in which she pledged to her son to fight for justice for as long as it takes.
She told the crowd that Paul had been a fit and healthy young man and had written some poetry. One of his poems was entitled “Time is the master”. Patricia Coker declared: “Indeed time is the master and time will see that justice is done for my son.”