1st August 2012

The jury has delivered a damning and substantial narrative verdict following the death of Sean Nicholas Rigg at Brixton police station on 21 August 2008. They found that the cause of death was `1a cardiac arrest, 1b acute arrhythmia, 1c ischemia, 1d partial positional asphyxia’ and that he died at Brixton police station as a result of a cardiac arrest.

In the jury’s findings on the actions of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM), they found that SLAM ‘had failed to ensure that their patient Sean Rigg took his medication. Furthermore SLAM’s failure to undertake a Mental Health Act assessment at or from the 11 August more than minimally contributed to the Sean Rigg’s death’.

The jury found that the ‘the level of force used on Sean Rigg whilst restrained in the prone position…was unsuitable’ and that it was ‘questionable whether relevant police guidelines regarding restraint and positional asphyxia were sufficient or followed correctly’.

They found that the restraint lasted approximately 8 minutes, and that Sean Rigg was in the prone position ‘throughout the entire restraint’. The length of restraint in the prone position ‘was therefore unnecessary’.

The majority view of the jury was that the restraint ‘more than minimally contributed to Sean Rigg’s death’.

They also found that the police ‘failed to identify that Sean Rigg was a vulnerable person at point of arrest’ and he was therefore taken to the police station instead of an A&E department or Section 136 suite, ‘despite information about him being readily available and accessible’.

Whilst Sean Rigg was in custody ‘the police failed to uphold his basic rights and omitted to deliver the appropriate care’.

Deborah Coles, Co-director of INQUEST said:

“Sean Rigg was a vulnerable man in need of help and protection and yet he was failed by all those who should have been there to protect him.

“The inquest uncovered a litany of appalling failures by mental health services and the Metropolitan Police, outlined in the damning jury narrative.

“It also raises serious concerns about policing culture and practice where a man so obviously unwell was restrained in the prone position for eight minutes, became unresponsive, and yet was taken to a police station rather than a hospital, and left to die on the floor.

“Time and again we’re told that ‘lessons will be learned’ and yet we see the same poor practice and system failures.

“A system that is not seen to deliver justice will continue to undermine public trust and confidence. As in other similar cases no police officer has lost their job, faced misconduct action or been prosecuted.

“Equally, public institutions must be called to account for their corporate failure to implement required systems changes identified following previous deaths.

“The IPCC investigation was fundamentally flawed from the outset and 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.

“INQUEST’s casework demonstrates that people with mental health problems and/or from black and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately represented in deaths in contentious circumstances involving the police.

“The individual and institutional neglect uncovered by this inquest should prompt the Home Office and Department of Health to urgently review how the police and mental health providers work together to respond to people in crisis and in conflict with the law.

“It is frightening that the callous indifference shown by the police to a vulnerable, mentally ill black man may still be replicated today.”

Sean Rigg’s family said:

“We have sat through a long and painful seven weeks reliving the final days and hours of Sean’s precious life. This pain has been compounded by officers at best misleading the jury and at worst lying under oath. The evidence we have heard has left us in no doubt that Sean died as a result of the wilful neglect of those who were meant to care for him and keep him safe.

“Sean was a fit and healthy man who died less than an hour after being picked up by the police. Nothing will bring him back but we want to know that justice will be done. Those responsible must be held to account for Sean’s death.”

The Rigg family full statement can be accessed online here


Notes to editor:

  1. Statistics gathered from INQUEST’s Casework and Monitoring show that a disproportionate number of those who die in police custody following the use of force are from black and minority ethnic communities (BAME). In 2011, BAME deaths accounted for 38% of all deaths in police custody.
  2. The IPCC’s recently published statistics on deaths in police custody for 2011/12 revealed that nearly half (7 out 15) of those who died in or following police custody were identified as having mental health problems.
  3. The death of Sean Rigg in 2008 has alarming echoes of the shocking circumstances of the death in 1998 of Christopher Alder. Like Christopher Alder, CCTV footage showed Sean Rigg dying on the floor of a police station surrounded by police officers.