Sean Rigg death: Met officers deny misconduct charges

Sean Rigg Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Sean Rigg died while in police custody in 2008

Five Met Police officers who were involved in the detention of a man who died while in custody have denied misconduct charges.

Sean Rigg, who had schizophrenia, died at Brixton police station in August 2008 after he was restrained.

PCs Andrew Birks, Richard Glasson, Matthew Forward, Mark Harratt and Sgt Paul White are all accused of breaching standards of professional behaviour.

They all appeared at the police hearing being held in Earl’s Court.

The hearing was told the four constables had been on duty in a marked police van when they were called to deal with Mr Rigg.

When they arrived the 40-year-old ran away but was restrained at the Weir Estate and pinned down in a prone position for nearly seven minutes.

He was then taken into a caged area at the police station where he collapsed.

Members of Mr Rigg’s family, including his sister Marcia, also attended the hearing which is due to resume on Tuesday.

What happened to Sean Rigg?

Musician Mr Rigg was arrested on 21 August 2008 after claims he had attacked passers-by in Balham.

The 40-year-old, who was a paranoid schizophrenic, was handcuffed, forcefully restrained face down and confined in a police van.

After arriving at the station where he had been put in a holding area, he collapsed and died from cardiac arrest.

In 2012 an inquest found the police officers who restrained him had used “unsuitable force”.

The jury also found there was no evidence Mr Rigg had been violent to the public.

Image copyright The Rigg Family
Image caption The 40-year-old musician died after being held in the prone position by officers for eight minutes

Was anybody prosecuted over his death?

The police watchdog, which was then called the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), investigated the actions of the officers involved when Mr Rigg died.

The IPCC was criticised over mistakes it made in its initial investigation but in March 2016, it passed evidence to prosecutors against five police officers.

However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced later that year there was “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction”.

One officer, Sgt Paul White, did face a trial for perjury over evidence he gave at the inquest.

He was found not guilty at Southwark Crown Court in November 2016.

The CPS reviewed their decision not to prosecute the officers following a request by Mr Rigg’s family but again upheld its decision the following year.

Mr Rigg’s sister, Marcia Rigg, called the decision “shameful”, adding that there was “no justice in the UK for families like mine.”

What has happened to the five officers since?

Two of the officers involved have tried to leave the Met, but both were blocked from doing so and suspended.

PC Andrew Birks applied to leave the force in 2014 so he could become a vicar but his exit was blocked by the force who instead suspended him on an annual salary of £35,000.

Mr Birks, who has now retrained as a priest in Sussex, last month told the BBC the delays in the case were “inexcusable and actually quite shameful”.

“I’ve got no problems being held to account for what I did, and investigated for what happened… but I don’t expect it to take years,” he said.

Sgt White, who was the custody officer, has requested to retire but this was rejected by the force as it would have meant he would have avoided a potential misconduct hearing.

The three other officers, all of them PCs, have been on restricted duties.

Image copyright Parish of Portslade and Mile Oak
Image caption PC Andrew Birks has been paid a full salary since being suspended by the Met in 2014

Why is a misconduct hearing taking place?

Last year the police watchdog, now called the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), directed the Met to begin gross misconduct hearings against the five officers over their actions, as well as allegations they misled the inquest.

PC Birks is accused of breaching the standards of professional behaviour in relation to his duties and responsibilities.

Sgt White is accused of breaching standards in relation to honesty and integrity, and duties and responsibilities.

The three other constables – PC Richard Glasson, PC Mathew Forward and PC Mark Harratt – face allegations they failed to meet standards in relation to honesty and integrity, use of force, abuse of authority and duties and responsibilities.

The accusations against them include:

  • The four constables are accused of failing to ensure Mr Rigg’s wellbeing because they did not recognise that he was suffering from mental health issues
  • They are also accused of failing to ensure he was unharmed because they did not check updates to the call dispatch system that suggested he may have mental health problems and did not check his passport details on the police national computer
  • All five officers allegedly failed to get Mr Rigg urgent medical help when it became clear that he was seriously ill
  • In terms of the restraint, it is claimed that PCs Glasson, Harratt and Forward held the musician in the prone position for an excessive amount of time
  • PCs Glasson, Harratt, Forward and and Sgt White are accused of giving false evidence to police watchdog investigators and the inquest
  • PCs Glasson and Forward are accused of falsely claiming Mr Rigg was moved onto his side when he was held in the prone position, while they and PC Harratt are accused of falsely claiming he was moving his legs and spinning around while in the police van
  • Sgt White is accused of incorrectly claiming that he had checked on Mr Rigg in the police van, and changing his evidence to the inquest after CCTV disproved his account

The hearing is expected to last for six weeks.

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