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IOPC refusal to re-investigate unlawful killing of Lewis Skelton quashed in family judicial review

Lewis with his sisters

(Lewis Skelton with his sisters) 

Today the High Court (Mrs Justice Hill, sitting in Leeds) quashed a refusal by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (“IOPC”)  to re-investigate the death of Lewis Skelton. 

Lewis had a long history of mental health problems and had been spotted on the streets of Hull carrying a small hand axe. Officers attending were instructed that he had not threatened anyone.  After being Tasered four times, Lewis was shot twice in the back by an armed officer, known as “B50”. In October 2021, an Inquest Jury, unanimously concluded Lewis Skelton’s death was an unlawful killing. B50 had claimed he faced a collapsing timeframe as Mr Skelton approached three workmen. In January 2023, the Divisional Court rejected a challenge pursued by B50, supported by the Chief Constable of Humberside Police, confirming the Jury’s conclusion:

On one view of the evidence that was open to the Jury, Mr Skelton’s progress had slowed down considerably, he was struggling and was still not showing aggressive intent despite (or perhaps because of) being tasered four times, the workmen (who were sufficiently distant that they had not yet perceived a threat) would have had ample opportunity to get out of the way had the threat become a real and present danger, and B50’s justification based upon his being threatened on or around Caroline Place was contradicted in circumstances which could (depending on the view taken by the Jury) support a conclusion that it was a deliberate falsehood designed to bolster an untrue case.” (R (on the application of Officer B50) v. HM Coroner for the East Riding of Yorkshire and Kingston-Upon-Hull [2023] EWHC 81 (Admin),  [88])

An original investigation by the Independent Press Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) in 2017 had concluded that there was no indication there may be any misconduct or any criminal offence. There had been no consideration of disciplinary proceedings or referral to the CPS. 

The IPCC found Lewis “was running towards members of the public” when B50 took the decision to shoot.  At the Inquest, for the first time, B50 accepted “quite possibly” that Lewis was “staggering along” or “stumbling along”.  Shortly after the Inquest, the family wrote through solicitors to ask the IOPC to re-investigate.  The IOPC accepted the original investigation was flawed on two issues central to B50’s justification for the shooting but refused to reinvestigate.  

A flawed investigation: Decisions “might have been different”.

The Director General has the power to reinvestigate in defined circumstances when satisfied that there are “compelling reasons” to do so (Police Reform Act 2002 (Section 13B)).  Today, Mrs Justice Hill held that the IOPC failed to follow its own Policy in refusing to reinvestigate (R (Glenn Skelton) v Director General of the IOPC and (1) Officer B50 and (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside Police [2024] EWHC 983 (Admin)). Its November 2022 review is quashed and the Director General directed to take a fresh decision.  

The relevant IOPC Policy required the consideration of three criteria. First, whether there were flaws in the original investigation which had a material impact on subsequent decisions as to discipline, performance or referral to the CPS (Condition A).  Second, whether there was significant new information and a real possibility of different decisions (Condition B).  Finally, whether it was necessary in the public interest for there to be a re-investigation (Condition C). The High Court concluded that the IOPC consideration of all three criteria was unlawful in this case.  

The IOPC had unlawfully set the bar too high on causation for Condition A, requiring not only a material impact on subsequent decisions, but that it was “probable” the outcome of the investigation would have been different. The IOPC had wrongly concluded that evidence given by B50 to the inquest was not “new” information as it had been “available” to the investigators in the evidence given by others that Lewis was not running. Ultimately, the IOPC approach to necessity and public interest test was also unlawful, being permeated by the failures in respect of the flaws in the original investigation and the significance of the new evidence from B50.

Mrs Justice Hill said of the material flaws in the original investigation: “The effect of both the flaws was, potentially, that the investigator had been working on the basis that Mr Skelton posed a greater threat than was justified: if he was not in fact running, and had not in fact engaged in earlier threatening behaviour, it was reasonable to regard him as of less of a risk than if he had in fact done either of things” [183].  She added: “it must follow that if the flaws had not occurred, the decisions taken in the investigation might have been different.”  [184]

The decision of the Divisional Court was the first judgment on an unlawful killing inquest conclusion in a police shooting on the civil standard of proof, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Maugham. That case addressed evidential sufficiency for a Coroner to leave unlawful killing to a Jury (Galbraith and the “Galbraith-plus” line of case law).  It is understood today’s judgment is similarly the first judicial consideration of the IOPC’s statutory power to reinvestigate and the associated policy. 

The judicial review pursued by Lewis’s father, Glenn Skelton, was resisted by the IOPC and the Chief Constable of Humberside Police and B50 acting as Interested Parties.   

The Skelton family welcomed today’s decision and called on the IOPC to conduct a full re-investigation of Lewis’s death and the conduct of the officers involved promptly. 

The Skelton Family is represented by Tim Moloney KC and Angela Patrick, instructed by Hudgell Solicitors.  They acted for the family in the Inquest, in the judicial review pursued by B50 and in the judicial review of the IOPC.  

A statement from the family can be read on the Hudgell Solicitors website, here

Read more about the Inquest and B50’s earlier judicial review here and here

Media coverage of the inquest and the subsequent judicial review is available online, including on the BBCITV, in the Yorkshire Post and the Hull Daily Mail.

The judgment is available here.