Monday, 24 February 2014

The Death of Liddle Towers

This death in police custody in 1976 brought claims of excessive force and brutality to the fore, and an appeal against the original inquest ruling, resulted in a second Coroner`s Inquest.  Liddle Towers, a boxing coach and electrician had left the Key Club in Birtley, near Chester-Le-Street, in County Durham, on January 16th 1976.  He was arrested by PC Goodner, but a subsequent struggle saw six officers use force to put him into a Police van.  He was taken to Gateshead Police Station, but at 4am, 39 years old Mr Towers spoke of being unwell.  He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where doctors said they could find nothing wrong with him, so he was returned to the station, then released at 10am.  The taxi driver later stated that Mr Towers told of being given a beating in the street but getting a bigger one whilst in the cells.  He saw his doctor some hours later, Dr Alan Powney, who reiterated what the taxi driver was told, and saw evidence of violence.  Mr Towers went into hospital where he died on February 9th 1976.

    An inquest into his death was held october 8th and a verdict of "Justifiable Homicide" was recorded.  This caused great concern in sections of the media about excessive force, and the approach of police in general.  The family fought against the decision, and on May 3rd 1977, the Attorney General responded to a question from Chester-Le-Street MP Giles Radice, stating that the DPP had decided that there was insufficient evidence to proceed against any officer.  On July 8th, the Home Secretary refused to set up an inquiry under S32 of the Police Act 1964.  The family appealed the "Justifiable Homicide" verdict and in June 1978, the Queen's Bench Divisional Court ordered a new inquest but, sadly for the family, this just brought a verdict of Misadventure, which basically means accidental.

    I remember this case and in a TV reconstruction, an officer claimed that Mr Towers stared at him and said "What the fucking hell are you looking at?" leading to a confrontation.  Also, during the inquest, I recall one officer saying that he fell on Mr Towers with his knees during the struggle.  If I am wrong on this point, I will amend it.  Another high profile death in Police hands during this period was that of Jimmy Kelly in Liverpool in late 79 or early 1980.