8th June 2012

9.30am Monday 11 June 2012
Before Coroner Andrew Harris
Southwark Coroners Court, 1 Tennis Street, London SE1 1YD.

The inquest into the death of Sean Rigg, a 40 year old black man who died on 21 August 2008 following contact with Brixton police, will begin on Monday 11 June at Southwark Coroner’s Court.

Sean Rigg was a talented musician and one of five siblings.  He had suffered from severe mental illness from the age of 20 and had a formal diagnosis of schizophrenia.  He was living in a high support community mental health hostel.  His family were intensely involved with his life and his mental health care.

Sean had a history of stopping his medication and falling into relapse.  On several occasions he had been detained by the police under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and taken to a ‘place of safety’. Prior to his arrest on the 21st August he had stopped taking his medication and his behaviour was giving cause for concern.  On the evening of 21st hostel staff called 999 on several occasions asking for police to attend the hostel.   The police did not attend. Sean then left the hostel and was later arrested after a member of the public called the police.  He was restrained by the police, taken to Brixton police station and died soon after.

The ensuing IPCC investigation has been the subject of serious criticism, as has the police handling of the case and their treatment of the family.

The family hopes the inquest will address the following questions and issues:

  • How and why did Sean, who appeared to be physically healthy, come to suddenly die in this way?
  • Why did the mental health service fail to carry out an emergency intervention when it became clear that Sean had ceased taking his medication and was going into crisis?
  • Was key mental health information passed to relevant police officers?
  • Why, when it became clear Sean was experiencing a mental health crisis, was he restrained and transported in the back of a police van to Brixton police station and not taken to a hospital for emergency medical care
  • The adequacy of the medical care given to Sean at Brixton police station by the police, including by the police doctor
  • Whether effective communication and response protocols were in place between the agencies (Metropolitan Police Service, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Penrose Housing) to address Sean’s emerging crisis.

Sean’s family said:

“We have been battling for nearly four years to find out the truth of what happened to our brother that night.  Sean was doing great things in his life and it was devastating his life was cut short in this way.   Sean should have been safe in the care of the police and the mental health services.  We believe his death was wholly avoidable and welcome the chance for the evidence to be finally aired publicly and properly scrutinised.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“INQUEST has significant concerns about how vulnerable people with mental health issues are treated by the police.  This is a deeply disturbing death and it is vital both for the family and the public that there is a rigorous, far-reaching investigation into the treatment of a vulnerable black man in need of care and protection.

“Sean Rigg’s family have endured a painfully long wait for this inquest, and an unacceptable and ongoing battle for funding.  They need to find out the truth about how Sean died, and be reassured that action will be taken to prevent anything like this happening again.”

The Rigg family is being represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Leslie Thomas of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Daniel Machover of Hickman & Rose Solicitors. They are being supported by INQUEST throughout the inquest.


Notes to editor:

  1. Under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act the police may detain someone they believe is suffering from a mental illness and in need of immediate treatment or care.  Section 136 gives authority for the police to take a person from a public place to a “Place of Safety”, either for their own protection or for the protection of others, so that their immediate needs can be properly assessed.
  2. Evidence sessions will begin on the second day, Tuesday 12 June.
  3. Neither the family nor their representatives will be available for comment while the inquest is ongoing.  Please address any queries to Hannah Ward at INQUEST.