Inquest into Sean Rigg death-in-custody begins


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The Independent Online

A long awaited inquest into a controversial death-in-custody starts at Southwark Crown Court today - four years after the man died at Brixton Police station.

Sean Rigg, a physically fit 40-year-old black man with a long history of mental health problems, died in a metal caged area of the notorious south London police station in August 2008.

Mr Rigg’s inquest comes at a difficult time for the Met and the IPCC, who have both faced increased scrutiny in recent months following a number of high profile deaths and complaints against officers.

The jury is likely to hear from the four arresting police officers, the forensic medicine examiner who attended the police station, mental health professionals from the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust who were responsible for Mr Rigg’s care, and staff from the hostel where he lived.

The Rigg family have tirelessly campaigned for more openness and transparency from the Metropolitan Police and Independent Police Complaints Commission amid claims that key information has been unfairly withheld.

Mr Rigg was a talented musician, well-known and popular around Brixton. He lived in a hostel which provides supported accommodation for people with mental health problems. Brixton police knew about Mr Rigg’s mental illness because they had helped take him to hospital several times over the preceding years.

On 21 August 2008, the hostel staff telephoned 999 several times asking for assistance, but the police did not attend. Mr Rigg left the hostel, attracting attention because he was not properly dressed and acting bizarrely. A member of the public called 999 and four officers, including two trainees, attended. Mr Rigg was restrained, handcuffed and arrested, and placed inside the police van. Mr Rigg was carrying his passport in his pocket at the time. There was no CCTV inside the van.

He was placed inside the station yard and at some point soon after, was taken ‘ill’, and a police doctor and ambulance was called.

The family were not informed about the death for six hours, and they were not allowed to see Mr Rigg’s body for a further 36hours. The family have previously said that they were discouraged from seeing the body, only to later discover a number of visible injuries on Mr Rigg’s face that they had never been told about.

Perhaps the most anticipated evidence will come from CCTV footage which has been the subject of disputes between the Rigg family, police and IPCC.

Footage from the minutes before his death has never been seen. Initially the family were told that there was no camera looking over the yard, but later discovered that not to be true. They were then told that the camera had not been working. It is unclear what footage will be seen by the coroner, Dr Andrew Harris, and the jury.

Questions have been raised over the past five years about the IPCC investigation, with allegations of unjustifiable secrecy and bias towards the police.

The IPCC waited eight months before questioning the four arresting officers, and nine before speaking to the 999 call handler. Investigators didn’t secure the area where Rigg was arrested, nor was it forensically examined.  The lead IPCC investigator was replaced after acknowledging the family’s lack of confidence in him.

The commission was also forced to apologise for releasing a misleading statement about the death.

A total of 198 black and ethnic minority people have died in police custody or following contact with police since 1990 – representing 14 per cent of all such deaths.

The inquest is expected to last six weeks.