Continuing our Yorkshire Law Firm Challenge campaign, we are interviewing each of the 5 charities we are raising money for and this week we are featuring INQUEST.

Ison Harrison has proudly supported INQUEST for many years. Here we interview Arnaud Vervoitte (Operations Director) and Lucy McKay (Senior Communications Officer) at INQUEST.

Tell us a bit about your charity…

INQUEST is the only charity providing expertise on state-related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies, the media and parliamentarians. Our specialist casework includes deaths in police and prison custody, immigration detention, mental health settings and deaths involving multi-agency failings or where wider issues of state and corporate accountability are in question. This includes work around the Hillsborough football disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire.

INQUEST’s policy, parliamentary, campaigning and media work is grounded in the day to day experience of working with bereaved people. Employing an integrated model, this brings together casework support, family participation, identification of thematic trends, statistics and analysis that feeds into the organisation’s work on campaigning, information sharing and policy and parliamentary work. At the heart of this unique model are the experiences and needs of bereaved people. This integrated approach is crucial to families, not only in making sure their voices are heard and holding the state to account for individual deaths, but also in changing policy and practice to prevent future deaths.

We are entirely independent of government. We campaign alongside families and others to access the truth, hold those responsible to account and effect meaningful change to prevent future deaths.

How long have you been established?

INQUEST was founded by bereaved families and campaigners in 1981

What are your charity aims and objectives?:

INQUEST’s overall aim is to end deaths caused by unsafe systems of detention, the use of force, a lack of care and by institutional and multi-agency failures. As detailed in our current strategic plan, our aims and objectives are:

  • Access to justice for families – equality of arms through developing a system which treats bereaved families with dignity and respect and supports them in navigating the legal process following a death and to achieve the truth;
  • Visibility with respect to all systems of care and detention – so that failures are exposed and changes can be made;
  • An end to all institutionalised forms of racism and discrimination – too often a root cause of system failure, individual neglect or violence; these must be recognised and addressed;
  • Accountability for institutional failings and failure to act – effective sanctions and ‘accountable learning’, so that real and relevant action is taken to reduce the number of deaths in future.

Tell us an interesting fact about your charity…

INQUEST is 40 years old this year!

How has Covid-19 affected INQUEST?

INQUEST stepped up a week before the first national lockdown became government policy, so we could be ready to utilise our expertise and experience in the most effective way under the circumstances. Our entire organisation has been working remotely for a year, and has ensured existing and new families alike are receiving the support they require, by adapting its projects (online family groups for instance). This has ensured that our work remains as effective, impactful, and seamless as before whilst ensuring the needs of families are met and ensuring the safety and well-being of families and of our staff. You can see all our related work at https://www.inquest.org.uk/covid19 .

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and the resulting global protests highlighting longstanding concerns about structural racism and state violence, INQUEST’s expertise in these areas and unique statistical analysis has been widely sought.  Additionally, the Covid-19 public health crisis has once again highlighted the inadequacy of the government response to contentious deaths and raised legitimate questions about preventability. Our evidence, built up over decades of casework and influencing on policy issues, is playing a crucial role in informing NGOs, activists, parliamentarians, the media and wider stakeholders. The widespread twin sense of pressure creates a context in which to force positive changes in the UK, and presents opportunities to build solidarity, share our evidence and influence.

What are your plans for 2021?

We intend to carry on delivering on our work programmes.

  • Challenging structural racism – We recognise the impact of racism and discrimination in all areas of our work outside of custody and detention. This includes, for instance, Grenfell and Covid-19.
  • Covid-19
  • Mental Health, Learning Disability & Autism
  • Grenfell

What would you say your biggest success to date has been?

There have been many examples of impact and success. here are some of the most recent:

  • Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody: Deborah Coles was Special Advisor to Chair of the review, Dame Angiolini. INQUEST organised two family listening days with individual families and three meetings with lawyers. The Angiolini Review, published in October 2017, presents many bold and positive findings echoing those argued for by INQUEST and the families we work with. INQUEST organised a press conference on the day of the launch of the Review.
  • Our Grenfell Work: Our casework team have been working with bereaved and survivors, assisting them with navigating the complex issues around the Inquiry. We are coordinating meetings with the Grenfell INQUEST Lawyers Group who are representing those bereaved by the disaster. This work informs our policy, parliamentary, campaigning and media work to ensure the legal processes can deliver the truth, effect meaningful cultural change and prevent future deaths.

We would like to thank INQUEST for their assistance to our community at a time of dire need. The experience and specialist knowledge provided by Inquest gave clear and vital information to a traumatised community that allowed residents and bereaved family members to make informed choices about accessing proper support.” Grenfell Action Group

  • Our Legal Aid Campaign is the direct result of the policy objective of securing specialist, free and mon means-tested legal representation to families at inquests following a state related death. Launched in 2019, the ‘Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests campaign, is a powerful illustration of our integrated model.

What has been the most challenging part of running the charity?

The work we do is challenging in many ways: systemic change comes about at a very slow pace and witnessing hundreds of untimely deaths due to state violence and state neglect each year can be discouraging and traumatising to the families we support and to our staff group. Another challenging aspect is managing the emotional impact and vicarious trauma often experienced by our staff and volunteers as a result of the work they do.

How did you get to know of Ison Harrison?

INQUEST has a longstanding relationship with Ison Harrison’s very own Ruth Bundey, whose dedicated work with bereaved families over decades has been an asset to our own work and goals. Ruth is a member of the INQUEST Lawyers Group and regular contributor to our legal journal. For example we worked closely with her on cases including the inquests into the deaths at Hillsborough, the various legal cases following the death of Christopher Alder in police custody, and the death of Emily Hartley in prison.

What do you think to The Yorkshire Law Firm Challenge campaign and our plans to raise money for your charity?

Every year INQUEST helps hundreds of families bereaved by state related deaths. We are independent of government, and entirely reliant on grants donations to continue our vital work. We also always welcome unrestricted donations as they enable us to provide support to families or undertake work which may not be funded by our exiting grants.  We are therefore extremely grateful for the contributions of The Yorkshire Law Firm Challenge campaign which will support us in continuing this vital work.

To find out more about INQUEST and make a donation, please visit their website: INQUEST