Call handlers admit they could have done more to help mentally ill man who later died in police custody


Nina Lakhani
Wednesday 27 June 2012 19:29

Two 999 call-handlers have admitted to an inquest that they could have done more to alert police about the seriousness and urgency of a situation involving a mentally ill man who later died in police custody.

The inquest into the death of Sean Rigg, who died shortly after being restrained and arrested by officers from Brixton police in South London in August 2008, has heard how five 999 calls from hostel workers where he lived were treated as the lowest possible priority.

Call handler Maurice Gluck, who is recorded telling the hostel manager, Angela Wood, to go and complain to her MP is she was unhappy with the police response, told the jury that people often exaggerated about the seriousness of a situation and at the time he felt the hostel should have been able to cope with Mr Rigg’s psychosis.

Mr Gluck admitted that he had behaved unprofessionally towards Ms Wood, who last week broke down in court as the recordings of her desperate 999 calls were played in court.

Mr Gluck was asked by the Southwark coroner, Dr Andrew Harris, why he did not recognise that a call from a mental health expert reporting a disturbed mentally ill man who clearly posed a risk to public safety required an immediate police response.

Mr Gluck admitted that “in hindsight” he could have made it clearer that this should be treated as an immediate problem but insisted that he had acted properly when grading the call from Ms Wood as ‘no police response required’.

In a tense exchange, the barrister acting for the Rigg family suggested to Mr Gluck that his failure to properly grade the call was down to his irritation with Ms Wood.

Leslie Thomas QC said: “The reality is that you were narked because that woman [Angela Wood] was challenging your authority... she asked for your name... you became aggrieved that she was going to complain about you.”

He replied: “That was not the case.”

Mr Gluck, who also told Ms Wood that he had a psychology degree and was a black belt in karate during the call, told the court how he believed the hostel staff would have been able to deal with Mr Rigg, who was actively psychotic and karate chopping people, by talking him down, and perhaps restraining or giving him medication. The recording shows that Mr Gluck failed to ask the hostel manager whether any of those interventions were possible.

He said: “I know people think that I came across as arrogant or condescending but that was not my intention... I was trying to show her that I understood the situation but perhaps I should have phrased things differently.”

The other call handler giving evidence, Michael Colman, admitted that he had not passed on the fact Mr Rigg had left the hostel and was now wandering around in public, half naked in a disturbed state. The inquest was earlier told that Mr Rigg went on to assault three strangers, by karate chopping them shortly after he left the hostel.

Mr Colman insisted that he did not re-grade the call as ‘immediate’ because he did not want to confuse the dispatchers, and that updating calls using the ‘no police action required’ grading was standard practice.

The inquest will next hear evidence from the arresting police officers.