Friday 21 August – assemble 5.30pm Junction of Fairmount Road and Brixton Hill, Brixton, London Rally at Brixton Police Station, SW9 7DD – Candlelight vigil
On 21 August 2008, at approximately 7.30pm, Sean Rigg was arrested and restrained by four Brixton police officers, placed in a van and driven to Brixton police station. Within approximately one hour of being arrested, Sean, a physically fit and healthy man, was dead. Since Sean’s death, his family have campaigned tirelessly for justice. But their commitment to seeing justice done has met with opposition from the supposedly Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), whose weak, flawed investigation seems immensely biased towards the police. The United Campaign against Police Violence fully supports this evening of remembrance, starting at the hostel at which Sean was staying to Brixton police station. We must ensure that justice is done, and that there are no more deaths in police custody. No justice – no peace!
What Sean Rigg needed, desperately, was help: urgent medical attention for his serious mental illness. What he got, instead, was restraint. He was taken into custody by police officers who failed to notice his illness. And within hours of being arrested, he was dead.
His grieving family pleaded with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to discover how he died. Four months later, their questions still unanswered, they have accused the IPCC of failing to conduct a fair and independent investigation. The investigators have refused to take even the basic step of interviewing the officers involved.
The family says they have been denied access to information they believe would explain why Mr Rigg, a physically fit 40-year-old man, died so suddenly, despite investigators’ pledges to be open. The family’s MP, Sadiq Khan, a human rights lawyer, is to meet investigators on Tuesday to discuss his concerns about the case.
While Mr Rigg was physically well, he had a long-history of mental illness, and Brixton police had been involved in taking him to hospital on several occasions over the years. He lived in a supported hostel and was well known locally as a musician.
On 21 August last year Mr Rigg became disturbed after suffering a breakdown. Staff at his hostel made six 999 calls from around 5pm, asking for help in taking Mr Rigg to a place of safety. The police refused to attend.
Mr Rigg left the hostel in a disturbed state at 7pm and police approached him after a member of the public raised the alarm. Mr Rigg was restrained, handcuffed and arrested for a public order offence and alleged assault on a police officer. He was carrying his passport in his pocket at the time.
Mr Rigg arrived at Brixton police station in a van at 7.30pm but collapsed before he was transferred to the station. No one spotted that he was suffering from a mental illness or identified him as someone who had previously been detained under the Mental Health Act. A police surgeon and an ambulance attended, but he was pronounced dead at King’s College Hospital at 9.24pm.
His family believe he was dead before he left Brixton police station. What exactly happened has proved impossible to establish independently. The family was told there was no CCTV inside the van, and crucial footage from the police station yard is missing. The existence of a camera which overlooked where he collapsed was acknowledged by police only after Mr Rigg’s siblings insisted on looking around the station. Police now claim the camera had not worked since May 2008.
Anna Mazzola, of solicitor Hickman and Rose, acting for the Rigg family, said: “The IPCC only agreed to make the disappearance of the CCTV part of the terms of reference following repeated representations on behalf of the family. Despite the manner of Sean’s death, the IPCC are refusing to treat the matter as a criminal investigation. Nearly four months after Sean’s death, no statements have been taken from the officers involved and no explanation put forward as to what happened on the way to the station.”
One of the family’s complaints is that they were not informed of his death until almost six hours afterwards. They were not allowed to see his body for a further 36 hours.
Samantha Rigg-David, Sean Rigg Justice and Change Campaign and sister of Sean Rigg, said: “Friday 21st August 2009 will be a year to the day since Sean died and we are still fighting for answers, answers that make sense. We have called for a robust and fair investigation, but still the IPCC continue to take the word, side and perspective of the police. “As a family it has been hard to grieve. Instead, we have had to campaign tirelessly and ask some very hard questions and almost conduct our own investigation into what happened to Sean on the night he died in Brixton police station. Our questions only raise yet more questions and lead us into further suspicion. “We can only continue in our quest for justice and hope that all those responsible for Sean’s death, all those that failed him on that fateful day, will be called to account. These needless deaths need to stop, the police need to indeed work with us, the community, learn to treat us with the respect and care that we deserve in truly working together for ‘a safer London’ , not one where innocent people turn up ‘dead’ in the hands of the police.”
Mr Rigg’s death is one of 24 deaths in police custody last year. No fewer than 102 black and ethnic minority people have died in police custody in the past 16 years.