16th January 2014

Yesterday INQUEST and four families of young men who died following restraint by police held a highly significant meeting with Norman Lamb, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health services.

The families of Sean Rigg, James Herbert, Olaseni Lewis and Thomas Orchard attended the meeting. All died in circumstances involving the use of force and restraint by the police during a mental health crisis.  

Among the concerns discussed at the meeting were: 

  • the continuing high number of deaths of people with mental health problems following the dangerous use of force and the restraint by police and the increasing use of restraint equipment
    • discriminatory attitudes and responses to people in mental health crisis
    • the lack of urgent learning from previous deaths and the occurrence of further deaths raising near identical issues
    • the lack of any consistent practises or systems in place by police forces across the country in their response to mental health
    • the lack of accountability when deaths occur 
    • despite pockets of good practise and new pilots around country, the piecemeal nature of these schemes and approaches
    • the urgent need for a national response and strategy to develop a coherent understanding and safe policing response to those with mental health issues.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“It was critically important that the Minister heard directly from these families and listened to their calls for urgent action to be taken to develop a national and co-ordinated approach to the safe policing of people suffering mental illness. These four vulnerable but otherwise physically healthy men all came into contact with the police while suffering a mental health crisis.  They were in need of help and protection and yet died following the dangerous use of force and restraint by police officers. The fact that deaths are continuing shows how urgent it is for joint action to be taken to change culture, policy and practice across police and mental health services.”

Tony Herbert and Barbara Montgomery, parents of James Herbert said:

“Giving James a legacy that his tragic and unnecessary death may prevent others suffering the same fate, is extremely important to us. The very encouraging meeting with Norman Lamb, led by INQUEST, and with three other families who lost their sons and brothers in a very similar way, is an important step to that end.”

Aji and Lara Lewis, mother and sister of Olaseni Lewis said:

“White and black, from all parts of the country, we have lost loved ones in shocking and brutal circumstances. We have joined together to fight for national change to stop the further terrible deaths of people in mental crisis. This was a promising meeting and we thank INQUEST for organising it, but the evidence will be in the change that follows.” 

The family of Thomas Orchard said:

“Our meeting with Norman Lamb, MP was an important early step in pushing for reform in the way in which people with mental health problems are treated. Our son and brother, Thomas, died needlessly – and tragically - after being detained and restrained in police custody in October 2012. Early intervention from staff trained and equipped to deal with vulnerable people, such as Thomas, could stop more unnecessary deaths in custody from occurring. Lessons from the deaths of Thomas and other tragic cases such as Sean Rigg, Seni Lewis and James Herbert must be learned.”

Samantha Rigg-David and Marci Rigg, sisters of Sean Rigg said:

"The meeting was a good start, it was important for us families to come together in a united way, but it was sad for us all to be reminded that after over 40 years of families and friends campaigning for an end to deaths in custody - things are actually getting worse...forms of restraint are getting more barbaric and our loved ones are still dying needlessly. Norman Lamb is in touch with all the issues and seems really keen to do something about this - what we actually need to see now is real accountability for authorities who are responsible for these deaths and real action.”


Notes to editors:

For further information, on the individual cases see INQUEST Press Releases
See BBC TV report on yesterday’s meeting at 14.30 mins