Sean Rigg custody death: Virtual statue unveiled outside Brixton police station to mark anniversary

Exclusive: ‘Sean died a lonely and traumatic death at the feet of uncaring officers, just like George Floyd and so many others in the UK, the US and globally’

Nadine White
Saturday 21 August 2021 21:02
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<p>Virtual statue of campaigner Marcia Rigg outside Brixton police station in south London</p>

Virtual statue of campaigner Marcia Rigg outside Brixton police station in south London

A virtual statue has been unveiled outside Brixton police station on the anniversary of Sean Rigg’s death in custody.

The statue, of campaigner Marcia Rigg, Sean’s sister, is the first in a series of “augmented reality statue interventions” through the Holding the Flame initiative.

Sean died following a cardiac arrest while in police custody at the south London police station on 21 August 2008; an inquest later found that officers had used “unsuitable and unnecessary force” on him.

The artwork, by transformative public arts company Aswarm, aims to offer a contemporary alternative to statues across Britain, inviting spectators to listen to, as well as view them.

It is part of a series, 81 Acts of Exuberant Defiance, responding to the 40th anniversary of the Brixton uprising. In the following weeks, the artwork will be available for longer-term public viewing through an app.

The Independent was invited to a private preview event attended by bereaved family members of people who have died following police contact, including campaigner Lee Lawrence, son of Cherry Groce who was shot by the police in her Brixton home in 1985; the mother of Joy Gardner, who died in 1993 after being restrained by police officers in her north London home; and the father of Roger Sylvester, who died in 1999 after slipping into a coma following his arrest in Tottenham, north London.

Guests including Black Lives Matter UK, poet and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson were also present.

Ms Rigg said: “I, along with other families and the community, remember my dear brother Sean, 13 years on, with a vigil with a difference.

The virtual statue by public arts company Aswarm

“I am truly honoured and excited to be part of this new, modern-day series of augmented reality statues as a way of celebrating people within our communities. Many families have challenged the system for better change and accountability in our justice system here in the UK, and it is nice to be recognised for the work that we families do.

“Sean died a lonely and traumatic death at the feet of uncaring officers, just like George Floyd and so many others in the UK, the US and globally. We remember them all and they will certainly never be forgotten.”

Following the unveiling, the families walked a short distance up the road to visit the newly-erected Cherry Groce Memorial in Windrush Square.

Marcia Rigg and Linton Kwesi Johnson

Rod Charles, the great-uncle of Rashan Charles who died in 2017 following contact with the Met Police in Dalston, also attended today’s event to show his support to the Rigg family.

“The avoidable loss of life which happened 13 years ago is just as poignant today as it was then – there is no change and it’s important to support the families,” he told The Independent, adding that his own relatives have been left “broken” following Rashan’s death.

Mr Charles is a retired chief inspector who served 30 years in the Metropolitan Police. He joined in 1984 at a time when relations between the police and communities in many parts of London were “difficult”.

Sean Rigg died at Brixton police station in 2008 after being restrained by officers

“I regrettably say that all these years on, in some communities, the relationship with the police is now worse,” he added.

“Police officers have very, very difficult jobs to do. I know about that, having done the job myself. But at the same time there needs to be a focus on the impact when things go wrong, and that focus is definitely missing, and I don’t think it’s an oversight.

“The structure, the policies, many of the characters within the police service and organisations of power do discriminate against other people.

“It’s important for the police to recognise the damage that’s been done and, more often than not, the tragic errors which were avoidable, compounded by the cover-ups afterwards. The onus isn’t on the community to adjust to the police, the onus is on the police service, the paid and trained officers to adapt to their communities.”

Bereaved families of people who have died following police contact

Lucy McKay, from the charity Inquest which provides advice on state-related deaths, described the artwork as “an important step in acknowledging and celebrating the strength and power of bereaved people”.

“Too often our legal systems fail bereaved families and do not provide the truth, justice and accountability that they and the public need following state-related deaths,” she told The Independent.

“However, this does not stop families from being at the forefront of creating positive change in our systems and society.

“Marcia Rigg is one family member who has done just that, as well as other members of the United Families and Friends Campaign and the generations of families who came before them. This work, at a time when families are grieving, is so often hidden and overlooked.”

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