Sean Rigg investigation: IPCC announces independent review of its own investigation into the death of a mentally ill man in police custody


Nina Lakhani
Wednesday 15 August 2012 16:44 BST
A photograph of Sean Rigg being restrained by police officers
A photograph of Sean Rigg being restrained by police officers

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The embattled police watchdog has announced an independent review of its own investigation into a controversial death in custody after an inquest contradicted many of its findings.

Sean Rigg, 40, a mentally ill man, died on the floor of Brixton police station in August 2008 – less than an hour after he was restrained by four police officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, who today published its long awaited report into the death, found no evidence that neglect or wrong doing or excessive force contributed to Mr Rigg’s death. In fact the IPCC found that the four officers “adhered to policy and good practice by monitoring Mr Rigg in the back of the van whilst being transported to Brixton Police Station following his arrest.”

Yet having interrogated much of the same evidence available to the IPCC, the inquest jury came to very different conclusions in their narrative verdict after rejecting much of the evidence given by the four arresting officers and custody sergeant.

It found that positional asphyxia was one of the causes of Mr Rigg’s death as a result of the “unsuitable” force during an “unnecessarily” long restraint. Police actions and inactions contributed to his death.

This is a highly unusual move as it is the first time the IPCC has commissioned an independent eternal enquiry into one of its own investigation, despite frequent criticism from families, lawyers, MPs and campaigners in the past.

But the scale of the apparent flaws into the Rigg investigation provoked disbelief as they were revealed at the inquest which concluded earlier this month.

The Rigg family last night welcomed the independent review. “There has never been any doubt in our minds that the IPCC’s inadequate report of February 2010 reflected an extremely poor and ineffective investigation into Sean’s death.

“The review must be a root and branch examination of the IPCC’s investigation and that it is transparent, robust and effective, so that officers are made accountable for Sean’s death.”

The IPCC failed to interview the officers for over six months, despite being in attendance at police station just hours after Sean Rigg’s death. Details of a “debrief” meeting held that night was withheld from the family until it was accidentally revealed during the inquest.

The apparently willingness by the watchdog to accept the evidence of the officers without cross-checking it with CCTV footage or radio message was also exposed during the inquest.

Custody Sergeant Paul White told the IPCC that he went outside to the police van in order to assess Mr Rigg’s well-being and was satisfied there was no cause for concern about his health.

In fact, CCTV from the custody suite proved that Sergeant White never went anywhere near the van, and in fact his evidence was ruled “not true” by the coroner. The jury found that Mr Rigg was “extremely unwell and not fully conscious” in the van and that the failure by police to properly assess his mental and physical health at any point from his arrest was “inadequate”.

The IPCC announced an investigation into Sergeant White following the inquest verdict. .

Helen Shaw, co-director of charity INQUEST said: “It should not have taken an inquest to discover some basic facts... Families should not have to rely on their own efforts to make sure the full facts about such deaths are established and those responsible for deaths are held to account.”

Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose, Wayne Rigg’s solicitor, said: “The external review ordered by Anne Owers will need to get to grips with all the failings of the IPCC's investigation, not least because this is not an isolated example. The IPCC must find a way to deliver robust and effective independent investigations into the most serious cases of alleged police misconduct, otherwise officers will never be held properly accountable in such cases, which will be disastrous for the police service and the public and leave more bereaved families with a burning sense of injustice.”

The IPCC said: “[The review] will help the overall review of deaths following police contact which is due to begin in September.”

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