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10 years on from Sean Rigg death, IOPC admits investigations must 'speed up'.

Sean Rigg: Died in custody

Sean Rigg: Died in custody

Date - 28th December 2018
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle


An "apologetic" watchdog says it is determined to bring down the curtain on long-running cases as five officers prepare to challenge misconduct proceedings 10 years on from the death of Sean Rigg.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct told Police Oracle it wants “to do better with the timeliness” of investigations – promising changes are underway to “speed up” its processes.

Half of investigations are now completed within six months and four out of five within a year, the IOPC maintains.

It accepts that a “small number”, which were started during its predecessor the Independent Police Complaints Commission's time, have not been concluded because they are “high profile, complex and involve other organisations, including coroner’s courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and the relevant police force”.

“It can make our investigations appear to take much longer than they actually do,” said an IOPC spokesman.

Following a direction by the IOPC, next month five Met Police officers will face gross misconduct hearings connected with the death of detainee Mr Rigg on August 21, 2008.

The January 21 hearing has been set almost seven years after an inquest jury criticised the way police restrained Mr Rigg, who had paranoid schizophrenia, before he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest at Brixton police station.

Mr Rigg had earlier been arrested in Balham and taken to the station in a police van driven by PC Andrew Birks.

PC Birks has been suspended since 2014 on full pay at an annual cost of £44,000. When he tried to leave the London force to retrain as a priest in the Church of England, the Met blocked his exit by suspending him.

At the time of his suspension, this ensured PC Birks would face misconduct proceedings.

The force’s actions were further endorsed in January 2015 when the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 were amended, inserting Regulation 10A which effectively prevented officers from resigning or retiring from the police service while they were under investigation.

Such officers could only leave the service with the consent of the appropriate authority.

However, a year ago this month the Police (Conduct, Complaints and Misconduct and Appeal Tribunal) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 came into force. The central changes meant misconduct proceedings can continue after an officer has left the service and officers no longer need permission to resign or retire. 

The new remit, agreed with the Home Office, has meant officers like PC Birks are in something of an institutional straitjacket which, it is understood, left the IOPC with an “element of sympathy” for police personnel unable to quit the service because of their suspended status.

PC Birks was ordained as a curate and has been working for free as a priest in Portslade, Sussex, because he cannot receive payment until he stops being employed by the Met.

Data obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request shows almost half of the UK's suspended officers have been off-duty for at least a year means the likes of personnel such as PC Birks have not been able to move on.

An IOPC spokesman told Police Oracle: “It is a difficult situation for Andrew Birks and other officers in a similar position, and not preferable for anyone.

“The new system is a better solution for this problem.”

On the Sean Rigg situation, IOPC regional director Sarah Green admitted: “We regret the amount of time it has taken to reach this point.

“Our first investigation, completed in February 2010 was inadequate and we have publicly and privately apologised to the Rigg family for this.

“Following the conclusions of the inquest jury in 2012 and an independent review of our investigation, published in 2013, we completed a second investigation in February 2016.

“Since that time we have been going through a formal process with the Metropolitan Police to determine whether disciplinary hearings should be held for the five officers which was concluded in March 2018.”

The 40-year-old musician’s family has demanded PC Birks remains suspended in the “public interest” while the Met says the January date for the hearing “balances the needs of all parties such as availability of those involved, and allowing for any legal matters to conclude”.

A Met spokeswoman told Police Oracle: “We fully understand and share the desire of the family and the officers involved to bring matters to a conclusion as quickly as possible.”

Some 10 years on from the death of Mr Rigg, his sister, Marcia, believes the “bar is set so high” for families when trying get justice and hold the public sector to account for its actions it feels “impossible to reach”.

She said: “We have ongoing reviews and recommendations after recommendations after recommendations.

“Reports that happened decades ago like the Rocky Bennett report, the Macpherson report – in my days it was the Casale review.

“They listen to families and service users repetitively – the evidence is already there, why are they not being implemented?

“You would be thinking, ‘hold on a minute, this was discussed decades ago and recommendations were put in its place’, so why is this death happening now?

In October, Ms Rigg asked why deaths in custody are still occurring – despite a plethora of learning recommendations after each incident.

Speaking at the Mental Health and Policing Conference, she questioned the officers involved but also highlighted how a failed mental health system was equally to blame for her brother’s death.

“Sean’s death could have been prevented,” said Ms Rigg, as emergency calls were made on the day he had a crisis, but the Met refused to come as he had not done anything criminal and there was no bed available – so he could not receive any medical attention.

As for being restrained face down in the prone position, Ms Rigg added: “My question is, how much training does one actually need to know that, for instance if you put a pillow over someone’s head, it takes minutes for them to die?

“To me that seems deliberate from a family’s perspective, it seems extraordinary that someone needs training to know that someone can die in that way.”

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The impression I get is that most IOPC investigations are completed in a reasonable amount of time, but the findings aren't what they want - in other words, no police wrong doing.  So they keep on doing the same thing over and over again hoping to find something that doesn't exist, and eventually after many years they give up.

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