C4 'cowards' won't show 'death in custody' film

A scene from the film Injustice

A documentary-maker has accused Channel 4 of “cowardice” for refusing to show a film highlighting deaths of black people in police custody.

Injustice charts the deaths of black Britons in custody and the struggles by their families to get the officers they hold responsible convicted.

The pressure group Friends of Injustice was this week co-ordinating a protest scheduled to take place on 1 May outside Channel 4’s Horseferry Road headquarters. They planned to see the film projected on to the side of the building at 9pm. The families of the people who died in custody were also due to attend.

Ken Fero, producer and co-director of Injustice, told Press Gazette he had been campaigning to have the film shown by Channel 4 for the seven years it took to make but was continually fobbed off with the excuse that it did not wish to be in confrontation with the Police Federation.

“Channel 4 should show this film on the basis of public interest. Not to show it is pure cowardice on Channel 4’s part,” Fero said. “As journalists we are concerned with lives that have been lost in violent circumstances at the hands of the state, whether in the UK or Iraq,” he added.

Channel 4 confirmed it had seen the film and a spokeswoman said: “We consider it raises important issues but we believe the film presented to us could not be broadcast without the serious risk of attracting a number of indefensible libel actions from police officers.

“Claims that this constitutes censorship or reluctance to ‘take on’ the Police Federation are unfounded. Channel 4 has robustly defended libel actions against our programmes from a range of claimants. Indeed we fought and won a case at trial brought by a police officer backed by the Police Federation.”

The film’s controversy stems from its naming of eight officers who, family members believe, were implicated in the deaths in custody.

Fero and co-director Tariq Mehmood rejected demands by the Police Federation to cut scenes from the film when it was given a cinema release two years ago.

The Federation reacted by faxing threats of legal action – through solicitors Russell, Jones and Walker – to cinemas planning to show the film, often minutes before screening.

The scheduled first screening of Injustice, at the Metro cinema in London’s West End, was cancelled minutes before it was due to begin on 6 July, 2001.

Fero’s accusations of cowardice come as Channel 4 chief executive Mark Thompson promised the broadcaster would “do things first, continue to make trouble, inspire change and be Britain’s bravest and most original broadcaster”.

Fero and Mehmood, through their production company Migrant Media, have produced a number of hard-hitting documentaries, including Justice Denied for Channel 4 in 1995, about Joy Gardner who died when police and deportation officers used force to restrain her, and Tasting Freedom, a 1994 Channel 4 documentary about the struggles of asylum seekers in Britain and their abuse in detention centres.

Its 1992 film for BBC One, After The Storm, looked at the experiences of a settled Arab community of Iraqis, Palestinians and Yemenis in the United Kingdom in the wake of the first Gulf War.

By Wale Azeez

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