AFTER a 30-year campaign, London’s City Hall is to investigate police handling of Ethiopian’s mystery death.
It was 31 years ago almost to the day that Alem Abay returned to his London flat expecting to find his younger brother, Mogous, relaxing after watching Saturday football on TV. Instead he found a scribbled note from the police conveying the shocking news that his brother was dead.
‘I rushed to the police station and they said Mogous had killed himself,’ Abay recalls. ‘When I questioned them they responded rudely even though I was clearly in shock. From the very beginning, they did not care.’
Despite police claims that the 27-year-old had jumped to his death from the fourth floor window of the block of flats, a Coroner’s inquest returned an open verdict, meaning that the cause of death was inconclusive.
It is a verdict that Abay has never accepted and he has spent the last three decades trying to discover the true circumstances of the tragedy, insisting that both the police investigation and inquest were seriously flawed, in particular the absence of forensic evidence and key witnesses not being called by the Coroner.
‘My brother could have been the victim of a racist murder but this was never explored,’ he says. ‘In my view, this amounts to a cover-up.’
The Justice for Mogous campaign has gone to the very top of government in its quest for the truth, in 2017 presenting a petition to 10 Downing Street of almost 12,000 signatures. In 2020, it achieved further focus in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests over the police killing of George Floyd in America.
Now, following more lobbying, London’s governing body, the Greater London Authority, is to begin an inquiry into the police’s handling of the case via its police and crimes committee.
‘We have said all along that due care and attention do not appear to have been given to the possible circumstances of Mogous’s death and so this is a real breakthrough for us,’ says Abay, director of the Ethiopian Welfare Organisation, a charity he set up in 1993 to support refugees.
Mogous followed his elder brother to London in 1979 as a teenager. The two hailed from Tigray province in Ethiopia, where their involvement with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front forced them to flee to Sudan before seeking asylum in the UK.
They joined a community of Tigrayan and Eritrean exiles living in the King’s Cross and Bloomsbury area of central London. Mogous found work as an assistant librarian at the School of African and Oriental Studies while studying for a science degree at the City of London Polytechnic, but became home sick and was eventually treated for depression.
On the evening of June 30 1990 his body was found by a neighbour in the courtyard of the flats off Tottenham Court Road in central London. No one saw him fall or what caused him to fall. Two other residents and the caretaker were the first to attend the scene before the arrival of paramedics and the police. However, the only witnesses called to give evidence at the subsequent inquest were three police officers and a pathologist. The hearing was over in less than 15 minutes.
In 1993 Abay decided to challenge the verdict by applying for a judicial review for the inquest to be re-opened. At the time, his lawyer Lincoln Crawford noted the lack of several key witnesses, including a neighbour and the caretaker who in separate statements said there had been no sign of blood around the deceased’s body, contradicting the police who told the inquest there had been.
Additionally, police failed to take any fingerprints from the window from which Mogous was said to have jumped, and eliminated another important line of inquiry by destroying his clothing. There were also inconsistencies of evidence between the pathologist and the doctor who certified Mogous’ death.
‘There is a real possibility that a different verdict would be returned if there were a proper inquiry into the deceased’s death,’ said Crawford as part of his written advice.
Unfortunately, financial support under the government’s legal aid scheme to pursue the case was suddenly withdrawn and Abay was unable to proceed.
Despite the setback, he pressed on with his crusade. It is one that has consumed his life. “I have not slept properly for the past 30 years but God has given me the strength to continue,” he says. ‘We have supplied the committee with new evidence and we hope that it will go some way to at last achieving justice for my brother.’