1 March 2019

Metropolitan Police Misconduct Hearing
Empress State Building
21 January – 1 March 2019

Following a six week hearing, a police misconduct panel has today dismissed all gross misconduct charges against five current and former Metropolitan police officers in relation to the death of Sean Rigg. Sean, aged 40, was experiencing mental ill health but was physically well at the time of his arrest. On 21 August 2008, he was restrained by Metropolitan police officers, then taken to Brixton police station where he died.  

An inquest in 2012 found that Sean died of a cardiac arrest following restraint in the prone position, which was deemed ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unsuitable’. Over the past ten years his death and the subsequent family campaign have given rise to significant public interest, and informed changes in policing practice, and reviews of policing and mental health.

Five officers (PC Andrew Birks, PC Richard Glasson, PC Matthew Forward, PC Mark Harratt and PS Paul White) faced gross misconduct allegations around failing to identify and treat Sean as a person with mental ill health, use of excessive restraint, and false evidence given to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)* and at the inquest.

Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg, said: “I do not accept this decision.  I do not accept this as an honest judgement of the evidence before the panel. I had little faith in these proceedings, but I always held hope they in the end they would do the right thing, based on such clear facts and evidence. My question remains, if the police acted as they were required, why is my brother dead? Nothing will tell me that this is justice.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “A man died. People continue to die. A system which routinely fails to hold the police to account against mandatory policing standards is an unsafe, unfit system which fails us all.

This shameful outcome points to the impunity of the police, and a process which frustrates the prevention of abuse of power and ill treatment. The delays in the process were the result of failings of the IPCC, and of the police to cooperate with the investigation.

This family’s ten year battle has been marked by a system corrupt in its protracted inadequacy. The Rigg family are the only people who come out of this process with any credibility. Their tireless efforts have led to significant changes and created greater visibility of deaths in custody and mental ill health.”

All five officers were accused of failing to identify and treat Sean as a person with mental health problems, despite witnessing and being given information over police airwaves about his unusual behaviour. Sean went from behaving in a random, violent, bizarre, and manic fashion to not communicating and not being responsive at all.

Two members of the public, who contacted emergency services to report Sean’s behaviour, had identified that he may have been experiencing mental ill health. During the hearing the only officer who still appeared to deny that he recognised Sean as mentally unwell at the time was the most senior officer in the group, PC Birks.

Four officers, Birks, Glasson, Harratt and Forward, were accused of failing to ensure that Sean was unharmed whilst under arrest. The officers had been trained in policing procedures for mental health and ‘safer restraint’. The charge included that the officers failed to take steps to communicate and monitor Sean’s mental and physical health more closely; and the failure to follow training and protocol by treating his condition as a medical emergency, which would have meant taking Sean to hospital, rather than the police station.

Evidence at the hearing suggested (as concluded at the inquest) that the officers held Sean face down in the prone position for an excessive period of time, with one or more officers placing weight on his upper body. There was seemingly no consideration given to the danger of this causing positional asphyxia, despite the officers’ training.  

Gerald Boyle QC, acting for the Metropolitan Police Service, told the hearing, “The only justification for keeping Mr Rigg in the prone position would be if he was struggling to the extent that it was unsafe to put him on his side or to keep him there. That is not the evidence of any of the officers…” He continued, the officers “used more force than was reasonable by keeping Mr Rigg in what is acknowledged to be a potentially dangerous position for longer than was necessary.”

Two officers, Glasson and Forward, were accused of lying about turning Sean onto his side during the restraint. Numerous witnesses did not recall Sean being in any other position than on his front.

During multiple interviews under caution and at the inquest, PS White gave evidence that, when Sean was in the back of the police van, waiting to come into the police station, he had gone to check on him, made eye contact, and concluded that “everything was ok.” After being shown CCTV at the inquest and at this hearing, PS White admitted that in fact none of these events took place. PC Harratt had supported PS White’s false evidence during interviews under caution and at the inquest. Later, at the inquest, after seeing an article from The Independent newspaper via Twitter that mentioned PS White’s change of evidence, he amended his evidence.

Following the restraint, Sean was taken to Brixton police station in the back of a van. CCTV shows that, when brought into the caged area on arrival at the station, Sean slumped and slid onto the floor, with his eyes shut. Despite this and an ongoing decline in Sean’s condition, the officers did not immediately seek medical help.

During the evidence, PC Harratt described Sean as ‘wanting to sleep’, while PS White described him as ‘feigning unconsciousness’. It was eight minutes before medical assistance was sought, when the Forensic Medical Examiner (FME) in the station (rather than an ambulance) was brought to see Sean.

On the basis of the CCTV evidence, PC Birks, PC Glasson, PC Harratt and PC Forward were accused of failing to ensure that Sean received prompt medical attention, as soon as it became apparent that he was seriously ill. PC Birks was also accused of failing to inform the Custody Sergeant, PS White, of information which would have enabled PS White to conduct a risk assessment of Sean.

Despite rejecting abuse of process arguments earlier in the hearing, the panel dismissed all charges.  

Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose solicitors, who represent the family, said: “Today's dismissal of all the gross misconduct charges flies in the face of the inquest jury's damning conclusions and makes a mockery of police misconduct procedures, as well as the efficacy of independent investigations into police conduct after deaths in custody.

In 2012 an inquest jury found, among other things, that the level of police force used against Sean Rigg was 'unsuitable', that police actions to restrain him were 'inappropriate', and that the length of time he was restrained was 'unnecessary' and more than minimally contributed to his death.

Yet, today a police panel held not a single officer accountable for the serious failings the jury identified. The impact of today's dismissal of the gross misconduct charges will be profound and entirely negative.

The sad truth is that numerous recent disciplinary cases have seen panel after panel dismiss serious allegations of misconduct, some even after detailed damning conclusions by inquest juries.

Today will only serve to strengthen the police's sense of impunity when failing to treat a mentally ill person who is obviously in crisis as a medical emergency or when using excessive force on people who subsequently die.

It is also scandalous that it has taken over ten years to get this point - a delay mainly down to the IPCC’s abject failure to both properly investigate at the beginning and then to carry out an efficient second investigation.


For further information, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]

INQUEST has been working with the family of Sean Rigg since his death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Daniel Machover and Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose Solicitors, Leslie Thomas QC and Tom Stoate of Garden Court Chambers, Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers, and Alison Macdonald QC of Matrix Chambers.

* In 2018, the Independent Police Complaints Commission became the Independent Office for Police Conduct.


  • On 21 January, the hearing opened with six sets of gross misconduct allegations against five officers; PC Andrew Birks, PC Richard Glasson, PC Matthew Forward, PC Mark Harratt and PS Paul White.
  • On 1 February, abuse of process arguments put forward by the officers were dismissed by the panel. All five officers argued that charges should not proceed on the grounds that the prejudicial impact caused by excessive delay in bringing these proceedings amounted to ‘abuse of process’.
  • On 13 February another set of charges, relating to three officers lying about Sean’s behaviour in the back of the van, were dropped. There was found to be insufficient evidence available to the panel to prove the charge. There was no CCTV in the police van Sean was detained in, but due to pressure from Sean’s family, in 2015 it was announced that all Metropolitan police vans would be fitted with CCTV.


2008-2012: Sean’s death and inquest

  • On 21 August 2008, Sean Rigg died of a cardiac arrest following restraint in the prone position, which was deemed ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unsuitable’ by an inquest jury in in 2012. Sean had been a patient of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM), who was also criticised. Full inquest conclusions details (August 2012) here. Full family response here.
  • The Coroner in November 2012 issued a highly critical Prevention of Future Deaths report (known at the time as Rule 43) which identified critical learning for the mental health care and police services involved, highlighting ongoing concerns. Full info here.

2012-2013: The ‘Casale Review’, the reopening of IPCC investigations

  • Following the inquest the IPCC commissioned an independent external review of its investigation into Sean’s death. The review, known as the Casale Review, was published in May 2013 and is available here. It was highly critical of the original investigation, and led to an action plan for change and improvements by the IPCC. INQUEST and the family welcomed the report here.
  • Following this, in December 2013 the IPCC decided to reopen their investigation into Sean’s death. Details here.

2016: First CPS decisions

  • In 2016, Sergeant Paul White was on trial for perjury, with CCTV evidence in court suggesting that White had detailed a false version of events on the night that Sean died. On 8 November 2016, the jury found White ‘not guilty’ of perjury. Detailed here.
  • On 15 November 2016, the CPS announced they would not bring further criminal charges against any of the officers involved, finding there was insufficient evidence. Detailed here.

2017: Victims Right to Review and Angiolini review


2018: Misconduct charges directed and ten year anniversary

  • In April 2018 the IOPC announced that they had directed gross misconduct charges.
  • Also in April, an unprecedented second attempt by PC Andrew Birks to challenge a decision to block his resignation was successful, after the High Court ordered the Met Commissioner to reconsider a decision made in July 2017 to continue Birks’ suspension, pending decisions on disciplinary action. This was the result of a second judicial review (heard in February), after his attempt at resignation was initially blocked in 2014.
  • Prior to the 10 year anniversary of Sean’s death in August 2018, Marcia Rigg  wrote an INQUEST blog, 'Almost ten years fighting for justice', describing her experiences since.