A probe into the death of a black man who was restrained by police has been told that he was “smeared, vilified and criminalised” by authorities.
A public inquiry is being held into the circumstances of Sheku Bayoh’s death in May 2015, after years of campaigning by his family.
Their legal representatives say the 32-year-old died of positional asphyxia after being held down by several police officers, but the Scottish Police Federation has emphasised the potential role of recreational drugs.
Officers had been called to reports of Mr Bayoh, who had taken a knife from his home, walking the streets in Kirkcaldy, Fife.
The Inquest charity, which supported Mr Bayoh’s family, said he was restrained face-down on the ground within less than a minute of the first officers’ arrival.
Mr Bayoh, who had taken MDMA and Flakka, was found to have suffered 23 separate injuries including a cracked rib and head wounds.
In a statement issued on Monday, the chair of the public inquiry said it would look at how police responded to the call, how they dealt with the aftermath of the incident and “whether the issue of race was a factor”.
A statement on behalf of Mr Bayoh’s family and his partner Collette Bell said their fight for a “proper investigation” had come at immense personal cost.
Lawyer Aamer Anwar added: “Kadie Johnson, Sheku’s sister, has no doubt that the way he or her family were treated by the police and the justice system would not have happened had Sheku been white.
“Their treatment was compounded by repeated attacks from those who appear to remain in a ‘child-like’ denial about the existence of racism in policing today.
“In his death Sheku was smeared, vilified and criminalised in order to negate his right to life.”
Mr Anwar said Mr Bayoh had no previous history of violence and described him as a “loving father, partner, son and brother”.
Sixteen months after his death, the Police Investigations Review Commissioner, which investigates deaths in police custody in Scotland, submitted its findings to the chief public prosecutor for Scotland.
But in 2018, the Lord Advocate announced that no charges would be brought against the five officers involved in the death.
Mr Bayoh’s family attempted to change the decision through the victim’s right to review process, but it was upheld last year and the public inquiry was announced.
Lord Bracadale, who is chairing the inquiry, said he was “conscious of the length of time this has hung over all involved”.
”We will work with determination and focus to ensure the work can be completed as quickly as possible,” he added.
“It is, however, at this stage impossible to say how long the inquiry will take.
”Preliminary discussions with some of the organisations involved lead us to believe that we will have in the region of 50,000 documents to scrutinise.
“This will clearly take some time for my team to get through.”
Lord Bracadale said evidence must be assessed and further inquiries made before hearings can start.
The inquiry was announced last November by Scotland’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf with its scope determined in May this year.
On Thursday, he said: “The family of Mr Bayoh have shown remarkable dignity and perseverance during their five-year wait for an inquiry into the death of Sheku.
”I hope that today’s announcement gives them comfort and reassurance that the circumstances surrounding his death will be examined in a public and transparent manner.”
Additional reporting by PA