An independent review has criticised the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) investigation into the death of Sean Rigg.
The review said the IPCC failed to robustly examine evidence – including CCTV footage – relating to the death of Rigg at Brixton police station in May 2008 after he suffered from a heart arrhythmia.
The IPCC has accepted the report’s recommendations, which include a call for a re-examination of whether there is potential misconduct in respect of the actions of the police officers involved in his arrest and detention. The IPCC is reviewing the evidence heard at inquest, in the light of the review’s findings, in order to determine whether further action can and should be taken.
Rigg, aged 40, who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, had been arrested in Brixton after a claim he had attacked passers-by in Balham, south London. In a previous investigation, a jury at Southwark Coroner’s Court found that in that arrest three police officers had restrained Rigg in the prone position for eight minutes, a length of time that “more than minimally” contributed to his death. [www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/police_used_unsuitable_force_against_man_with_mental_health_problems_5123.aspx]
Independently investigate all deaths in custody
The independent review, conducted by Dr Silvia Casale with the support of James Lewis QC and Martin Corfe, also made a number of recommendations for the IPCC about procedures in general in cases involving a death including:
• Independently investigating all deaths in custody at the outset
• Interviewing officers and staff involved as early as possible with transcripts produced of interviews in which officers’ accounts are probed
• Taking a multi-disciplinary approach internally and externally
• Exploring the use of non-police experts in areas such as mental health, restraint and CCTV
• Taking a broader approach in deaths investigations rather than focusing just on criminality or misconduct.
"We found that the IPCC investigation and report concerning the tragic death in custody of Sean Rigg in 2008 should have been more robust, in particular as regards its pursuit of lines of inquiry and critical analysis of the evidence,” said Casale. “Our recommendations focus on what can be learnt from that case for future investigations into deaths in custody.
"We welcome in particular the significant changes underway and the developments in the pipeline, in terms of the IPCC's management of cases and methods of investigating and reporting. These improvements will help the IPCC to fulfil its important and complex mandate: to ensure that the UK meets its obligations to protect the right to life and to prevent deaths in custody.”
Ensure lessons are put into practice
Dame Anne Owers (pictured), chair of the IPCC, said: "I will be working with Commissioners and staff to ensure that those lessons [in the review] are put into practice. I am encouraged by the fact that many of the concerns expressed by Dr Casale, her team and the Rigg family have also been voiced in discussions among our own staff and Commissioners, as well as by other external stakeholders.
"Some things have already changed since 2008. As Dr Casale recognises, we now have critical incident management processes in place and we have clarified and strengthened the role that Commissioners play in overseeing investigations.
"We are using both existing and new powers to ensure officers are interviewed expeditiously, and are examining our use of experts, including on mental health and restraint. But there is more to be done and we will use this review to build on progress so far. We will also be looking at how we can feed the recent findings of Lord Adebowale’s independent Commission on mental health into our work.
"The Commission will formally consider the review at its next meeting, in June, after which a detailed action plan, responding to each of the recommendations, will be published.”
Marcia Rigg, oldest sister of Sean Rigg, speaking on behalf of the Rigg family, welcomed the findings and recommendations of the review. "We also welcome the IPCC's acceptance of the failures in its investigation, its wholehearted apologies to us for those failures and its promise to take action on the recommendations, including to re-examine any potential police misconduct.
"It is the family's strong opinion that possible criminal offences should also be considered afresh and we will be discussing that soon with the Commissioner now overseeing this case, Mary Cunneen. It has been a pleasant surprise for us to see that the IPCC accepts the need to put its house in order for the betterment of all future investigations into deaths in police custody. The
Sit up and take notice
Rigg family respectfully insist that all such investigations must be robust, fearless, transparent and properly effective. If the Review's recommendations are fully implemented, this can only improve public confidence in the IPCC, which society does need to fulfil its purpose. But the police and the police federation need to sit up and take notice of this Report – they need to put their houses in order rather than obstructing the IPCC in its statutory role.
"Almost five years after Sean's unnecessary death, my family's pursuit of justice and our dignified determination to arrive at a truly clear picture of what happened to Sean on 21 August 2008, has hopefully contributed to real and positive change into the way the IPCC and all key agencies should fulfil their obligations, by law, into a death in custody so that no other family should ever have to endure the pain, grief and anger we and other families have endured.
"We look forward to seeing the IPCC’s action plan in the coming months and working with Mary Cunneen and Catherine Hall on their review of Sean’s death in the coming weeks and months.”