Jury condemns police and mental health trust in Sean Rigg inquest

Wednesday 1 August 2012

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The jury at the inquest into the death of Sean Rigg has delivered a highly critical narrative verdict, highlighting failures by both the police and mental health services. Mr Rigg died in police custody at Brixton police station in August 2008 after prolonged restraint. His family were represented by Leslie Thomas and Thomas Stoate.

The jury's narrative verdict catalogues a litany of preventable failings by both the Metropolitan Police and South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM), both of which knew that Mr Rigg suffered from schizophrenia. 10 days prior to his death, SLAM failed to respond to clear signs that Mr Rigg was relapsing, and failed to put in place a crisis management plan. This, combined with their failure to undertake a Mental Health Act assessment "more than minimally" contributed to the death.

When staff at the hostel where Mr Rigg was staying called the police, the lack of timely response was found to be "unacceptable and inappropriate".

Despite the jury finding that Mr Rigg was struggling but not violently after being arrested, the police restrained him in the prone position for eight minutes. Restraining him in this way, for this length of time was found to be unnecessary and more than minimally contributed to the death. Furthermore, the verdict questions whether the police's own guidelines or training on use of restraint are sufficient or were followed correctly.

The police were also criticised for failing at any stage to undertake an assessment of Mr Rigg's physical and mental condition. The subsequent absence of appropriate care, including keeping Mr Rigg in handcuffs was unnecessary and inappropriate, more than minimally contributing to his death.

A copy of the full verdict can be downloaded here.

Despite the IPCC investigating the case, they failed to identify misleading statements in some of the police officers' evidence, or even to seize all the relevant CCTV footage of the incident at Brixton police station. Leslie Thomas, representing Mr Rigg's family, found from watching the footage that the custody sergeant had actually been sitting in his office at the time when he claimed to have been checking on Mr Rigg in the police van. When confronted in court with this, the officer in question then conceded that his earlier evidence was untrue.

Praising the hard work of the jury, Leslie said "In 23 years I have never experienced such an engaged, deeply sceptical of the police account, and intelligent jury. It is cases like this that serve as a timely reminder as to why juries and not judges or coroners should be entrusted with cases such as these, as they are the only proper check and balance against the control and power of state agents."

Highlighting that the IPCC investigation into the death was fundamentally flawed, co-director of INQUEST Deborah Coles, said "it is shameful that without the relentless and dogged determination of the family and their legal team, so many of these failures would never have been uncovered". The INQUEST press release on the verdict can be read here.

In their public statement after hearing the verdict, Mr Rigg's family thanked those who have helped them in their fight for justice.

The case has been widely reported in the media, including by the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent.

Leslie Thomas is a member of the Garden Court Inquests and Claims Against The Police teams. Thomas Stoate is currently a pupil barrister at Garden Court Chambers.

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