17th March 2014

The IPCC has today published a major report into the way it investigates deaths, following a review launched in Autumn 2012.Since the IPCC was established nearly ten years ago, INQUEST has worked alongside hundreds of bereaved families and their lawyers as the IPCC has conducted investigations following deaths involving the police. This work has informed our critique of their practice and led us to draw these failings to their attention time after time (see below).

On announcing this review, the new Chair of the IPCC, Dame Anne Owers, invited INQUEST to be represented on its reference group. We accepted the invitation to ensure that this critique and families’ experiences were at the heart of the review. As part of this we facilitated two listening days for the IPCC’s chair to hear directly from bereaved families who were prepared to generously share their views.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“This report is welcome acknowledgement that time and again bereaved families have been failed by the IPCC. In recognising the required changes to organisational culture, attitude and approach their biggest challenge is to move beyond words and aspiration to implementation. The absence of a robust police watchdog has allowed corruption and dangerous practices to go unchecked. Family and public confidence will only be achieved if the IPCC delivers an investigation process that ensures wrongdoing, misconduct and poor practice is uncovered and police are properly held to account. This is a pivotal moment for the IPCC and they must make this happen to match these reasonable expectations. Whether they can remains to be seen.”

Families who have suffered poor IPCC investigations have given their reaction below.

Ajibola Lewis is the mother of Seni Lewis who died following police restraint in a mental health hospital in 2010.  Serious criticism of the original IPCC investigation into his death by his family, legal team and others led to the IPCC beginning a new investigation in September 2013. She said:

“The original IPCC investigation into the death of our son Seni had to be torn up last summer as it was not fit for purpose, and we were promised that the new investigation would be everything that the first was not: prompt, effective and rigorous. Over six months later, we have seen little sign of those words being put into action, and over three and a half years since Seni died we are no closer to finding out the truth of what happened. We welcome the recommendations in the report that has been published today by the IPCC and we are pleased that they appear to have listened to us and other families, but those recommendations must now be implemented: we’ve heard the rhetoric, now we want to see the action. No other family should have to go through what we have been through.”

Marcia Rigg is the sister of Sean Rigg who died in police custody in Brixton in 2008. Evidence and the jury verdict at the inquest into his death was in sharp contrast to the findings of the IPCC investigation, which prompted the IPCC to commission an independent review of that investigation as well as undertake a fresh examination of the case, currently held up until the High Court quashes the original outcome of February 2010. She said:

“We welcome this long awaited final report.  The damning verdict at the inquest into our brother Sean’s death highlighted the extreme inadequacies of the original IPCC investigation.  We hope that all the recommendations are implemented without delay, and that as well as helping us the review will help other families and lead to effective change in the way deaths in police custody are investigated.”

Tony Herbert and Barbara Montgomery, parents of James Herbert who died in police custody in Yeovil and whose inquest last year revealed highly critical evidence that prompted the IPCC to re-investigate his death said:

“Our son, James, died in police custody in Yeovil Somerset in June 2010.  The IPCC investigated his death and we saw their report just under a year after his death.  Following his inquest in April 2013, the IPCC decided to re-investigate, rather than publish their report. The new investigation is far more robust and deep than the first and it appears that the IPCC now understands the importance to the families, the police and society of getting to the truth.  They have recognised the need to do things better, have consulted with many, including families supported by INQUEST, and in our case, we can see evidence already of welcome change.”


Notes to editors:

  1. The report can be accessed via the IPCC website here
  2. The conclusions of the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Police Complaints and Discipline and the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1999, coupled with many years of campaigning by bereaved families, lawyers, complainants, police monitoring groups and human rights organisations led to the Police Reform Act 2002, which established the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2004. In 2004 INQUEST hoped that bereaved families would have more confidence in the new system and that the approach of the IPCC would be fair and impartial resulting in just outcomes of the investigations. However, these aspirations were not met and there was not a corresponding development of trust and confidence in the new system. 
  3. Selected INQUEST recommendations for IPCC reform 2004–2014:

2007: INQUEST publishes Unlocking the Truth, containing a series of recommendations for improvements to IPCC investigations and practice

2008: INQUEST responds to IPCC Stock take consultation

2009: Why can't the IPCC learn? Public confidence in an independent police complaints system has once again been undermined by Helen Shaw and Deborah Coles

2012: INQUEST submission to Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the IPCC  

2013: INQUEST submission to independent review of investigation of the death of Sean Rigg