13 April 2018

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has today announced that they have directed gross misconduct charges for five officers involved in the death of Sean Rigg. Also today, 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. 

Sean, aged 40, was suffering mental ill health at the time of his arrest and was restrained by Metropolitan Police Officers. He died at Brixton police station on 21 August 2008. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had previously agreed, in November 2017, to bring some gross misconduct charges against four of the five officers involved, except PC Birks. Today’s directions not only include PC Birks, but go further in terms of the charges brought.

All key officers involved in this case should have faced disciplinary proceedings well before now. Last month, the IOPC finally came to the end of the process governing disciplinary action, when it directed the Met Commissioner to bring gross misconduct charges against the five key officers, including PC Birks. Were it not for the delays in this process, which could have been completed long ago, there would never have been a need for this judicial review hearing or judgment.

PC Andrew Birks, now also a priest in the Church of England, was the senior officer involved in Sean’s arrest. In May 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) made the decision to suspend Birks and prevent him from resigning. If able to resign, he would not have faced possible gross misconduct proceedings. Birks lost a legal challenge to those decisions in September 2014. Today’s ruling is the conclusion of a second judicial review, of the decisions which the MPS have maintained from May 2014 to date. The judicial review was heard at the High Court on 22-23 February 2018. More information here.

Mr Justice Garnham set out in his judgement that “the public interest in favour of maintaining the suspension is substantial”, however he concluded that the Metropolitan Police should reconsider their initial decision to block PC Birks from retiring. The judge further set out in the judgment [para 28] the IOPC’s view that there was:

a. Failure to identify Sean Rigg as a person with mental health problems and failure to ensure he was unharmed whilst he was under arrest;

b. Failure to ensure that Sean Rigg received proper medical attention as soon as it became apparent that he was seriously ill;

c. Failure to inform the custody sergeant of information in his possession which would have informed the sergeant so that he could conduct a risk assessment whilst the detainee was waiting outside in the police van.”

Sean Rigg’s family therefore call upon the Commissioner to act in the public interest by: immediately deciding to continue to suspend PC Birks from duty, and serving PC Birks and the four other officers with notices to finally begin disciplinary proceedings. No delay in starting any disciplinary proceedings should be allowed to happen on the back of this judgment. The family further believe that, as the body entrusted with securing public confidence in the police complaint system, it would be quite wrong for the IOPC to leave this judgment unchallenged. They call upon the IOPC to appeal this ruling, not least because of its potential wider implications concerning the rights of families bereaved by state related deaths to see alleged wrongdoing being addressed through disciplinary proceedings.

Marcia Rigg, campaigner and sister of Sean Rigg said: My family and I welcome the IOPC’s decision to direct gross misconduct charges for officers involved in Sean’s death. As we approach ten years since my brother died following unnecessary and unsuitable restraint, we hope that the hearings will take place as soon as possible and provide some much-needed accountability

Ten years on and my family is still suffering delay after delay. The new decision that the Court has ordered should be made immediately. The only sensible decision in the public interest, with the gross misconduct charges having been directed by the IOPC, is for PC Birks to remain suspended, so that he can face those charges.”

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “The delay and obfuscation in this case has had a punishing impact on Sean’s family, who have fought tirelessly for justice for Sean, and indeed for many other families, over the last decade. The delays not only impact families, but frustrate and weaken the processes intended to bring truth, accountability, and policy change. The Metropolitan Police’s commitment to accountability for a preventable restraint related death will be judged by their response to this judgment.”   

Daniel Machover, solicitor for the family said: “Today’s judgment is worrying, as it appears to downplay the significance of disciplinary proceedings in securing accountability following deaths in custody or at the hands of state agents.

The reality is that the officers involved in this case, including PC Birks, should already have faced disciplinary proceedings well before now. The failings highlighted in this judgement are very serious. For PC Birks to represent the Church of England when he has never answered to those charges of gross professional misconduct would be a travesty.

Therefore, any decision regarding PC Birks needs to be made urgently and disciplinary proceedings heard this year; in the meantime the three officers who remain on restricted duties should be suspended in the public interest, given the seriousness of their alleged gross misconduct in connection with Sean Rigg’s death.”



For further information, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or here.

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, Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers, Leslie Thomas QC and Tom Stoate of Garden Court Chambers, and Alison Macdonald of Matrix Chambers.


  • More information about the judicial review brought by PC Birks is available in the opening media release.
  • In December 2017 the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed a decision not to charge officers involved in the death of Sean Rigg, following a Victim’s Right to Review claim. In the notes to this media release you can find a detailed timeline, with further background on the case.
  • On 21 August 2008, Sean Rigg died of a cardiac arrest following 8 minutes of 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 were also criticised.
  • Sean Rigg’s case and the years of campaigning by his family were central to sparking and informing the Independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody by Dame Elish Angiolini, published in October 2017
  • Read more about the circumstances of Sean’s death and the background to the case here (see notes to editor for detailed timeline).
  • Marcia Rigg recently wrote an INQUEST blog, 'Almost ten years fighting for justice', describing her experiences following Sean's death.