Yesterday’s narrative verdict in the Sean Rigg inquest revealed devastating failings by the police, mental health services, and the IPCC. Leslie Thomas reflects on the case and asks when will lessons be learnt by those trusted with public confidence?
Tom Stoate and myself (together with Daniel Machover and Helen Stone at Hickman and Rose) have just finished the case of Sean Rigg.
After a marathon seven (long) weeks in Southwark Coroner’s court, our jury, after nearly three days of deliberations, have found that the police used ‘unnecessary and unsuitable’ force against Sean Rigg which contributed to his untimely and premature death. The jury found there was a lack of care and that Sean had been let down by the South London and Maudsley Mental Health Trust and the Metropolitan Police.
We were initially disappointed that unlawful killing couldn’t be left, but this would have entailed an unnecessary delay in the process as the matter would had to have been referred to the DPP for consideration as to whether to prosecute with no guarantees. Having recently seen what had happened in the Ian Tomlinson case, we were not keen to go down that route. Also we didn’t want to run the risk of losing our jury (out of the 11 jurors, six were black and the remaining five were white women). I’ve never had such a jury composition before in 23 years. Nor have I experienced such an engaged, deeply sceptical of the police account, and intelligent jury.
We therefore placed our hopes on the coroner leaving to the jury a neglect verdict. However the Coroner refused to leave this verdict, not that this mattered in the end as our jury found a way around this legal barrier and found to all intents and purposes that Sean died as a result of what by any other name many of us would consider to be neglect in all but legal name.
When many wish to attack the jury system, it is cases like this that serve as a timely reminder as to why juries and not judges or coroners should be entrusted with cases such as these, as they are the only proper check and balance against the control and power of state agents.
We are physically exhausted at the end of this case. For most days while working on the case we were up at 4.30am and worked late into the late evening after court until 11.30pm and regularly got home after midnight with no weekend breaks. Just to start this cycle again the next day. It has been mentally and physically gruelling. But worth it in the end.
The Rigg family have been brilliant. You could not wish for better clients. They were active participants in the whole inquisitorial process and were an important part of our legal team. They knew the CCTV evidence better than we did. With dignity they had to endure heart breaking and often shocking evidence about what happened to Sean. How he was left half naked on the floor of a police van and then put prone (face down) in the cage in the yard of a police station on the cold concrete ground. Being a nation of supposed animal lovers we would be shocked if a dog was treated in this way. But somehow when a young man who is mentally ill is treated like this and dies in police custody, there are no prosecutions or misconduct proceedings brought.
The IPCC are lame and useless. They either have no teeth or indeed the political will to investigate and prosecute these cases properly. To take an example in this case, they allowed the key police officers to go without being interviewed for six months. In addition, vital CCTV and radio airways recordings were not seized. The CCTV that was seized was not watched properly. There can be no excuse for this apart from incompetence at best or wilfully turning a blind eye at worse to such an obvious line of enquiry. The IPCC investigators missed the fact that the custody Sergeant had lied and mislead them in interview when he said he had visited and checked on Sean in the back of the police van. This was so easy to check. All they had to do was watch the CCTV at the relevant time. It was an easily demonstrable lie which was exposed by myself in 10 minutes in court with the use of the very same CCTV disclosed by the IPCC. When watched, it clearly showed the Sergeant sitting behind his desk or in the custody office at the very time he was meant to be at the van checking Sean. When confronted with this hard evidence he admitted straight away that his earlier evidence was untrue!
This isn’t rocket science.