Jury in Sean Rigg inquest retires to consider verdict


The jury at the inquest into the controversial death in custody of Sean Rigg has retired to consider its verdict after hearing seven weeks of evidence.

Eleven jurors, three men and eight women, will deliver a narrative verdict next week after considering the adequacies of the care and treatment provided by mental health professionals and Metropolitan Police officers to Mr Rigg, 40, who died in August 2008 in Brixton police station around an hour after being arrested.

Mr Rigg, who had a 20-year history of a relapsing mental illness, was suffering an acute psychotic episode at the time of his death. The jury must decide whether nurses and doctors at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust failed to provide Mr Rigg with an acceptable standard of care or not.

The forensic mental health team’s failure to organise a mental health act assessment, the decision not to see Mr Rigg face to face in the week before his death, and the crisis plans in place to deal with Mr Rigg’s breakdowns have been criticised by an independent psychiatric expert at the inquest.

Five 999 calls by the hostel requesting urgent help with Mr Rigg in the hours before his death, who they reported posed a serious risk to public safety because of his psychotic state, were ignored. Mr Rigg was eventually chased and arrested by officers responding to a 999 call from a member of the public who saw him assaulting a passer-by and suspected he was mentally ill.

The jury must decide whether or not these officers, and their colleagues at the police station, knew the man arrested was the mentally unwell Mr Rigg.

The jury must decide whether or not police used an appropriate level of force when physically restraining Mr Rigg in the face down prone position for several minutes, and whether they should have taken him to accident and emergency unit for urgent medical attention rather than to the police station where they may or may not have been a doctor.  A police doctor was first asked to see him more than 20 minutes after Mr Rigg arrived at the station when he was already “collapsed” on the floor of the caged area.

They must also decide whether the custody sergeant gave Mr Rigg an adequate level of care. Sergeant White’s description in court of his initial risk assessment of Mr Rigg was not the truth, the corner said in his summing up. 

The jury must decide upon the facts of the case having heard numerous allegations that police officers lied in their evidence to the court about what they did, and how Mr Rigg was treated.

In his final directions to the jury, coroner Dr Andrew Harris said: “The mere fact that a witness tells a lie is not in itself evidence of wrongdoing. A witness may lie for many reasons, for example to bolster a true defence to an accusation, to protect someone else, to conceal disgraceful conduct of his or out of panic or confusion.  If you think that there is or may be some innocent explanation for his lies then you must take no notice of them. 

“However, if you are satisfied on the balance of probabilities that he did not lie for some such or other innocent reason then his lies can be evidence upon which you can rely in reaching your conclusions about the causes and the circumstances of death.”