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Police criticised for arrest death
Wednesday, 08 August 2012
POLICE have been criticised for using an “unsuitable level of force” before the death of a schizophrenic man in custody.
Musician Sean Rigg, 40, was being held in the back of a police van at Brixton Police station in Brixton Hill when he died of a cardiac arrest on August 21, 2008, an inquest jury heard.
The jury found that officers used “unsuitable” force after arresting Mr Rigg for attacking passers-by and police officers in Balham.
Reading the jury’s narrative verdict after the seven-week inquest at Inner London South Coroner’s Court, coroner Dr Andrew Harris said: “The level of force used whilst he was restrained in the prone position at the Weir Estate was unsuitable.
“In addition, there was an absence of leadership. This led to a failure to take appropriate control of the situation.”
The jury heard police restrained Mr Rigg for eight minutes while he was being arrested, which “more than minimally” contributed to his death.
Reading the verdict, Dr Harris said: “As Sean Rigg was brought into Brixton police station he was extremely unwell.
“It was reasonable to expect the police to recognise there was cause for concern.”
The South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) was criticised for failing to organise a mental health assessment for Mr Rigg or make sure he was taking his medication before his death.
The absence of a mental health assessment “more than minimally contributed” to his death, the jury found.
The mental health hostel in Fairmount Road, Brixton, where Mr Rigg was living, was praised for the “good treatment and care” it provided. Mr Rigg had a 20-year history of mental illness and in the hours leading up to his arrest he had destroyed a gazebo at the hostel.
He was arrested after threatening passers-by on the Weir Estate in Balham later that day.
The inquest heard that staff at the hostel had locked themselves in an office and repeatedly called police on August 21.
But officers did not turn up until 8.11pm and by this time, Mr Rigg had been arrested elsewhere.
Giving evidence, one of the officers who attended the hostel said he had arrived at 7.40pm. He denied trying to cover up “inadequacies” in the police response.
Inspector Andrew Dunn, the section sergeant in charge of the officers guarding Mr Rigg, acknowledged that he did not marry together pieces of information that would have shown the detainee was at risk.
Speaking after the verdict, Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne said: “We sincerely regret the death of Sean Rigg and I wish to extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.
“It is always a matter of deep concern when someone dies in our care.
“It is clear that the way we handled the calls about Sean’s behaviour let us down and set off a series of events that resulted in him being taken ill and dying in police custody.
“Despite the best efforts of a doctor in the custody area at the time, Sean died.
“Our officers deal with challenging situations every day and in this case they responded to a difficult set of circumstances.
“We recognise the sensitivities involved in dealing with people suffering from mental health issues. We have clear policies and procedures in place and work with a wide range of organisations to improve our care of such vulnerable people.”
All content © of South London Press unless stated otherwise.
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