Sister of mentally ill man who died in police custody speaks of shock of being told he 'just collapsed and died'


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The Independent Online

The sister of a mentally ill man who died in police custody has spoken of her shock of being told by police that her physically fit brother had “just collapsed and died”, an inquest has heard.

Marcia Rigg-Samuel, 48, was giving evidence at the long-awaited inquest into the death of Sean Rigg, who died at Brixton police station in south London in August 2008.

Mr Rigg, 40, who had a 20-year history of serious psychotic episodes, was described by his sister as a "boisterous, funny, talented" musician with no physical health problems.

Ms Rigg-Samuel told Southwark Coroner's Court: "I heard my brother had died in the early hours of 22 August, at about 2.30am.

"The police came to our house and told us he had been arrested and taken to Brixton police station and had suddenly collapsed and died… They said they had no more information. We never heard from them again."

The jury heard how Mr Rigg had been treated in mental health hospitals more than 15 times as a result of relapses which always followed a similar pattern. He had on many occasions been picked up by police in London and abroad in countries including France, Thailand and Sweden, because of the bizarre and sometimes aggressive behaviour he displayed when unwell.

Ms Rigg-Samuel told the court that he was well known to Brixton police, who had helped take him to hospital on several occasions.

Professor Thomas Fahy, who had been Mr Rigg’s consultant forensic psychiatrist for several years, described Mr Rigg as an independently minded, charming man when he was well. He was “shocked” to hear about Mr Rigg’s sudden as he was a “slim, fit, healthy young man” with no history of heart problems.

No-one from Mr Rigg’s community mental health team from South London and Maudsley NHS Trust  saw or spoke to Mr Rigg in the week before his death despite being told by hostel where he lived that he was drinking his own urine, doing karate moves and behaving aggressively. These were typical signs of a relapse for Mr Rigg, the jury was told.

Under cross examination by the Rigg family’s barrister, Leslie Thomas Q, Professor Fahy admitted that “in hindsight” his team should have intervened earlier as Mr Rigg had clearly relapsed.

Professor Fahy explained that his patient had not been taking his medication for two months. Mr Rigg usually relapsed after not taking his medication for a few weeks when he would then pose a risk to the public because of paranoid and grandiose beliefs, the court was told.

Professor Fahy told the jury he had been away on holiday in the weeks leading up to Mr Rigg's death, but was asked about the response of this team in his absence.

Mr Thomas QC said: "At times when Sean was not being compliant with his medicine, his family had a calming effect on him, didn't they? He listened to his big sis (Ms Rigg-Samuel). Did anyone on your team think to pick up the phone and ring the family?"

Professor Fahy replied: "The family wasn't contacted. They should have been." The proceedings were temporarily halted after Ms Rigg-Samuel broke down in tears.

The inquest continues.