A POLICE watchdog senior investigator had received no training in unconscious bias when he began investigating the death of Sheku Bayoh, an inquiry has heard.

Keith Harrower, a senior investigator the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), told the Sheku Bayoh inquiry he now has a “better understanding” of unconscious bias since receiving training on the issue.

Bayoh, 31, a father-of-two, died after he was restrained on the ground by six police officers in Kirkcaldy, Fife, on May 3, 2015. 

The inquiry is examining the circumstances leading to his death, how police dealt with the aftermath, the investigation into his death, and whether or not race was a factor.

Senior counsel Angela Grahame KC asked Harrower if he was able to “protect” himself from unconscious bias in his line of duty. 

The National: Laywer Aamer Anwar (left) with sisters of Sheku Bayoh, Kadi Johnson (centre) and Kosna Bayoh (right) outside Capital House, EdinburghLaywer Aamer Anwar (left) with sisters of Sheku Bayoh, Kadi Johnson (centre) and Kosna Bayoh (right) outside Capital House, Edinburgh (Image: Jane Barlow)

Harrower, who has worked for Pirc since 2013, told the KC: “I’ve had training on unconscious bias, but that was after this incident.

“I’ve had other training but I’m aware of what it is and how it can work with people, and a lot of the time because of the nature of what it is, and the social stereotyping of people, that they may not even be aware that they’re thinking along these lines and that’s the danger.

“I always like to progress and really think about your decisions, and take that momentary bit of time to consider when you’re getting out of it, to try and alleviate or negate the fact that that may occur.

“But it is by the nature of it, it is unconscious and potentially, you’re not aware personally that it’s there. You have to think these things through all the time and balance everything up and the decisions that you intend to make.”

The KC then asked Harrower if he felt he had been “put into the best position to guard against unconscious bias”, despite not having had training on the matter at the time.

He said: “I think you can – let’s face it – you can always be better equipped with additional training in certain areas.

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“I feel, on a personal basis, that, I think these things through and guard against these outside influences but you’re never going to be able to say, ‘it’s a perfect world’ and everybody’s going to be 100% trained to cover every aspect of every type of investigation we come across.”

The counsel then asked if he feels he is now in a better position to mitigate unconscious bias now that he has received training.

He said: “Yeah, I would think so. I definitely have a better understanding of what it actually is, how to guard against it.

“How other individuals, when they’re conveying information to you, or versions of events that, things that they may be going through, and how they articulate that.

“So, there’s a lot of component parts.”

The inquiry moved on to discuss concerns cited by Bayoh’s partner, Colette Bell.

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Bell previously told the inquiry in February last year that Pirc is “made up of ex-police officers”, stating she had “lost all trust” in the police and Pirc, as she thought they were formed mostly of former police staff.

Bell said it is “not really transparent if it’s the police investigating the police” and that it is “unfair”.

The KC asked Harrower if he could comment on this, to which he said Pirc is “not made up of 100% police officers”, and that the workforce consists of a wide range of investigators from a number of professional backgrounds.

Commenting on Bell’s lack of trust in police and in Pirc, he added: “Perception is a very difficult thing to combat and some of the people will get definite views and will not move from that, no matter what they see or hear.

“If you look at a lot of the previous investigations, going into the public forum, on our website etc, some of the outcomes and findings with these would hopefully, for any members of the public that read these, would show that some of the strong outcomes for these investigations is that there was no bias and, basically, just seeing what occurred and we’re given the proper outcomes to these investigations.”

A statement issued on behalf of the Sheku Bayoh family outside of the hearing by their solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said the inquiry is beginning a “critical chapter” in the evidence and that the family hope Pirc are held to account.

Anwar said: “The Pirc betrayed not only Sheku and his family, but they also betrayed justice and delivered an investigation riddled with institutional racism, incompetence, and total bias.

“They are not fit for purpose – and the family hope they are finally held to account.”

A Pirc spokesperson said: “The inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh recommenced in Edinburgh today.

“As the Pirc is a core participant in the proceedings which are live, it would be inappropriate to comment upon the matter at this time.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “It is vital that the role and independence of the public inquiry is respected to ensure the application of the rule of law, due process, and justice being served.

“Police Scotland will continue to participate fully in an open and transparent manner.”

The inquiry, before Lord Bracadale, continues.