Photo of Simeon Francis who died in police custody in Torquay, Devon.

Say His Name! Simeon Francis!

By Richard Shrubb

Another name of a young man who died while in police custody has to be remembered at Black Lives Matter protests. Let Simeon Francis’ name be chanted along with George Floyd, Sean Duggan, and Stephen Lawrence.

What happened?

Only some of the facts are out at the moment. On the 20th May at just after midnight Simeon was arrested in Exeter and taken half an hour down the road to Torbay Police Station. By 6 pm he was dead in the cells.

The only fact we know for sure is that he died while under arrest and in police custody.

Why was he detained in custody?

Had he been interviewed?

Had any medical issues been reported? Did he receive any medical attention while in custody?

What was the cause of death?

As Simeon’s family representative said to the media shortly after he had died, “Clearly, without making any allegations at this point, Devon and Cornwall Police must be held to account as to what happened to Mr Francis while he was in their custody and their duty of care towards him.

“The family’s request is a simple one – why is Simeon dead?”

We cannot speculate as to what led to the death as that’s in the hands of an IOPC investigation. We can report that in 2019 he was videoed saying “I can’t breathe!” to the police as they kneeled on his chest before taking him on a recall to prison. Thankfully he survived that one or he could have been the death BLM protestors refer to when we chant “I can’t breathe!’.

Let’s look at some facts. Firstly at the death rate of BAME people in police custody.

Dying for Justice?

The Institute of Race Relations published a report called Dying for Justice in 2015. It reported, “INQUEST’s statistics, covering the period 2002-2012,…: of 380 deaths in police custody in England and Wales or as a result of contact with the police, 69 were from BME communities – 18 per cent”.

In 2011 the BAME population in the UK was around 11.7% so we are talking a statistically significantly higher death rate per head of population among BAME groups in police custody.

Stop and search stats by year. Souce FullFact.

This chart shows how BAME people are far more likely to be stopped and searched.

In June the Guardian reported, “Since 1969, just one police officer has been convicted for their role in the death of someone in their care (and in that case, the officer received a suspended sentence).”

Stop and search rates?

We again don’t fully understand why Simeon was arrested. We do know he was a bit of a colourful character and that he was known to the police. Many colourful characters are – even me writing this (I have been harassed for my anti-racism activities by Dorset Police).

We did, however, look at the website Stop Search for some idea as to what the likelihood is of a young black man of being searched randomly under the PACE act. It is still too high but nowhere near neighbouring Dorset Police’s rate where a BAME person is 31 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person.

What we can say?

We feel awful for Simeon’s family and kids. Even one death – of anyone – is a waste but they continue to occur.

We’ll close with a comment from Stand Up to Racism Exeter who said, “Stand Up To Racism Exeter demands justice for Simeon Francis and his family. We demand to know what the causes and circumstances of Simeon’s death were. Answers are needed to questions such as why someone arrested in Exeter had to be transported to Torquay (20 miles away).

“In 2019, three police officers were recorded on video sitting on Simeon (one each on his head, his midriff, and his legs), while Simeon implored the now-famous words ‘I can’t breathe’.

“Simeon is another Black man who has died in police custody, and would most likely be just another statistic had it not been for the horrific death of George Floyd and the global uproar that has caused.”

We stand in solidarity with Simeon Francis’ family.


Richard Shrubb

Richard is a marijuana, water sports and electric vehicles writer based in Dorchester, Dorset. Living in Prince Charles model housing estate, Poundbury, he is an avowed republican, community and Labour Party activist. Visit his website at www.richardshrubb.com for more about what he does.

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