29th May 2014

Family calls on Metropolitan Police Commissioner to withdraw acceptance of resignation

The family of Sean Rigg, who died in Brixton police station in August 2008 following prolonged restraint by police, have called on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe to urgently withdraw his acceptance of the resignation of PC Andrew Birks, the senior arresting officer involved in the restraint.

In August 2012, the jury at the inquest into Sean Rigg’s death returned a damning verdict criticising the actions of the police and the unsuitable use of restraint.  Since then, an independent review heavily criticised the original IPCC investigation and the IPCC made the decision to re-open the disciplinary and criminal investigations into Sean’s death.

In April 2014, PC Birks together with the other officers involved signed a consent order agreeing to an IPCC disciplinary re-investigation. 

On 13 May 2014, the High Court sealed the consent order enabling the IPCC to start its disciplinary re-investigation into PC Birks and the other officers, raising the prospect of disciplinary action against all four officers and the custody officer, Sergeant Paul White.

However the resignation of PC Birks was tendered and accepted before the IPCC were able to serve him with notices under the misconduct regulations.  In a letter served on the Commissioner yesterday lunchtime, the Rigg family have argued that the Commissioner acted unlawfully in accepting the resignation of PC Birks and asked the Commissioner to immediately withdraw his acceptance so that justice can take its proper course.  The Rigg family also call on the IPCC as the statutory guardian of the police complaints system to take a robust stance and make its own call on the Commissioner to reverse his decision to accept this untimely resignation.

This is not an isolated case and there have been many instances where police have avoided disciplinary proceedings by resigning or retiring.  In a speech to the Police Federation last week, Home Secretary Theresa May restated the government’s intention to end this practice. Although she first announced that intention as far back as February 2013 the situation remains unchanged.

Marcia Rigg, Sean Rigg’s sister said:

“The family of Sean Rigg is livid to say the least to learn that PC Andrew Birks, one of the arresting officers who was involved in the death of our beloved brother, Sean, has recently had his resignation accepted by the Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, to take effect on 1 June 2014 unless reversed.

“There is no doubt in our minds that this decision by PC Birks was taken to avoid the risk of him being held accountable for his conduct towards Sean on 21 August 2008 and acquiring a disciplinary record, possibly for gross misconduct.

“It was wrong for the Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, to accept his resignation. He was wholly aware of the position PC Birks was in.

“We are also extremely alarmed that the IPCC has not seen fit before now to even consider advising the MPS to suspend ALL the officers involved or for the MPS to do this of its own accord.

“The delays in this case, the failure to suspend officers and this resignation of PC Birks, if it does take effect on 1 June 2014, are outrageous and destroy public confidence in the police complaints system.

“It is almost 6 years since Sean's death, and almost 2 years since the inquest and the jury's damning verdict.  Our family should not be denied justice and accountability any longer.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“It is unacceptable that police officers are able to evade accountability for wrongdoing and frustrate the justice process in this way. This is not an isolated case but part of a systemic problem that allows the police to remain above the law.

“The government stated only last week that they intended to end this practice. However they first said this early last year and still nothing has been done. This gaping flaw in the police complaints system must be urgently addressed.”

Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen Lawrence, said:

“Only one officer involved in the investigation of Stephen’s murder faced disciplinary action – the other officers had all retired before they could be held to account.  You fight and fight and with so much publicity and all the time that has passed you’d hope that by now something would have been done to prevent this from happening.  It’s outrageous. Police officers must face up to the wrongs they have done.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Sean Rigg since his death in August 2008. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Leslie Thomas and Thomas Stoate of Garden Court Chambers and Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers and Daniel Machover and Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose Solicitors.


Notes to editors:

  1. A letter before claim was sent to the solicitors for Sir Bernard Hogan Howe on 28 May. Details of the letter include:
  • That the Commissioner’s decision is contrary to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • By accepting the resignation, the Commissioner has prematurely concluded any misconduct action that can be brought against PC Birks;
  • The Commissioner’s actions risk being seen as collusion in or tolerance of a possible unlawful act by a police officer;
  • The Commissioner has failed to give adequate consideration to the impact on public confidence of permitting a police officer to avoid disciplinary action through early resignation;
  • The importance of a disciplinary investigation in vindicating the Article 2 rights of Sean Rigg’s family.

The Commissioner has not yet provided Sean Rigg’s family with any reasons for the decision to accept PC Birks’ resignation.

The Commissioner has been asked to withdraw his acceptance of the resignation of PC Birks and suspend him from duty pending final decisions determining the outcome of a disciplinary investigation and, if appropriate, disciplinary proceedings.

Marcia Rigg-Samuel hopes that the Commissioner reverses his decision, but if not she will consider bringing court action at the end of this week.