Ultraviolence (2020) Bfi player

July 5th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Ken Fero; Documentary with Vivian Figueiredo, Lucy Chadwill, Brenda Weinberg, Amy Sey, Myrna Simpson; UK 2020, 75 min.

Director Ken Fero has teamed up again with writer Tariq Mehmood, the co-director of their 2001 documentary Injustice, to follow up on the topic of death in police custody in the UK: a thousand people died between 1969 and 2006, most of them people of colour. Fero has framed Ultraviolence as a letter to his son using Godard and Marker, among others, for the non-linear chapter structure dedicated to a victim of police brutality.

Injustice more or less killed off Fero’s career. It won several awards but was never shown on TV after the Police Federation threatened all media platforms with legal action, Fero threatened to sue them for loss of earnings but never received a reply. But it took a personal case for the director to engage again: Brian Douglas, a sports- and music promoter, happened to be a class mate of Fero at secondary school; he was stopped in May 1995 by constables Mark Tuffey and Paul Harrison in Clapham. Brian was struck with an American-style long-handled baton by PC Tuffey. Despite vomiting in his cell in Kennington Police Station, Douglas was only taken to hospital 14 hours later. He had a fractured skull and damage to his brain stem, dying five days later. At the inquest Tulley said his baton slipped accidentally when he hit Douglas on the shoulder. Evidence at the inquest revealed that the force of the blow was the equivalent of being dropped from eleven times his own height onto his head. The jury returned a verdict of misadventure, a verdict later challenged unsuccessfully by the Douglas family at the High Court.

Nuur Saeed, Paul Coker and Christopher Alder suffered equally gruesome deaths. The most clear-cut case of manslaughter (if not worse), is the case of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot after running away from Metropolitan Police hunting the Middle-Eastern perpetrators of a recent London suicide bombing. The policemen shot de Menezes seven time in the head, without even making an effort to talk to him in Stockwell Station. Vivian Figueiredo, Charles’ cousin, is one the many family members to this day is asking for justice. “Unity will give us strength to win” is one of her battle cries. Only, they do not win. An Independent Police Complaints Commission report concludes that the then Commissioner, Ian Blair, “was not served well by his staff, that his private office failed to keep him informed, but does not uphold allegations of a cover-up against him. No police officer is charged.” The family is left bewildered: “A man is shot in the head and yet their conclusion is no one is accountable?”

The most disturbing CCTV footage is from Plumstead Police Station, where Paul Coker died in August 2005. He became slightly paranoid in the flat of his girlfriend Lucy Chadick. She called the police, who arrested him. Chadwick told the police, that she heard Paul crying out to the police “You are hurting me, I can’t breathe, you are killing me”. He was carried by the police down the stairs, his head lolling from site to site. Later in the Police station, the policemen laughed about him “He is an evil fucker”. “He has already assaulted four officers”. “Its amazing the strength of the fucker to try and do that.”

There is at least one moment of redemption for the family of Brian Douglas. In 2006, eleven years after the killing of Brian, Mark Tuffey was in court, facing criminal charges. He had been reported by a fellow officer of kicking a black man and calling him a “dirty black cxxx”. Tuffey was convicted of aggravated behaviour and ordered to pay £400 fine and £400 cost. “It felt good to know he would no longer be a serving officer, as he had continued after Brian’s death. I walked away from court not necessarily victorious but that a little piece of justice had been done”, said Douglas’ sister Brenda Weinberg.

There is a certain overreach by Fero: He tries to connect the topic of his feature with wars like Vietnam and Iraq, trying to find a common strategy to end all violence. But the lively images of DoPs Koutaiba Al Janabi and Souleman Garcia are enough to support the continuous fight of the families of the victims. Their dedication stands for itself. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 16 JULY 2021

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