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Met Police: 'We regret Sean Rigg's death'

GRIEVING: Sean Rigg's sisters Samantha and Marcia(right) and his brother Wayne outside Southwark Coroners Court in London

POLICE OFFICERS have said they "regret" the custody death of black musician Sean Rigg.

The comments came after jurors at an inquest into Sean's death said officers at Brixton station in south London made a series of blunders that contributed to the 40-year-old's death.

Following the damning verdict, assistant commissioner Simon Byrne said: "We sincerely regret the death of Sean Rigg and on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service 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."

Fit and healthy Sean collapsed and died on August 21, 2008 in a police cell at Brixton police station after officers used unsuitable techniques, Southwark Coroners Court in London heard.

The inquest verdict, released yesterday (August 1), said the level of force used by police to restrain Sean, who was having a mental health crisis at the time, "more than minimally contributed" to his death.

Rigg, who suffered from schizophrenia, was arrested by police after complaints from the public that he was acting strangely.

Recording a narrative verdict, the jury found officers "failed to identify Sean Rigg was a vulnerable person at point of arrest" despite information about his medical history being readily available and accessible.

He was restrained in the prone position for eight minutes, a length of time that "more than minimally" contributed to his death, the jury found.

Instead of being taken to a hospital or special unit for those detained under the mental health act, Rigg was taken to Brixton police station where he died from a heart attack.


INQUEST: Southwark Coroners Court in London

The jury found that while in custody "the police failed to uphold Sean Rigg's basic rights and omitted to deliver the appropriate care".

Coroner Andrew Harris added: "It was reasonable to expect the police to recognise that there was cause for concern regarding Sean's mental and physical health."

Byrne said in a statement: "It is clear from what the jury said and our own conclusions 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 whilst being restrained and dying in police custody.

"Despite the best efforts of a doctor who was in the custody area at the time and the officers who tried to resuscitate him, 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 for dealing with these situations and work with a wide range of organisations to improve our care of such vulnerable people."

But Sean's family and campaign group, INQUEST, are not convinced.

In a statement, Sean's family said: “We have sat through seven long and painful seven weeks reliving the final days and hours of Sean’s precious life.

"This pain has been compounded by officers at best misleading the jury and at worst lying under oath. The evidence we have heard has left us in no doubt that Sean died as a result of the wilful neglect of those who were meant to care for him and keep him safe...

"Sean was a fit and healthy man who died less than an hour after being picked up by the police. Nothing will bring him back but we want to know that justice will be done. Those responsible must be held to account for Sean’s death.”

Deborah Coles, INQUEST's co-director said she was disappointed no officer was prosecuted, sacked or disciplined over Sean's death.

She said: “Sean Rigg was a vulnerable man in need of help and protection and yet he was failed by all those who should have been there to protect him.

“The inquest uncovered a litany of appalling failures by mental health services and the Metropolitan Police, outlined in the damning jury narrative."

She added: “It also raises serious concerns about policing culture and practice where a man so obviously unwell was restrained in the prone position for eight minutes, became unresponsive, and yet was taken to a police station rather than a hospital, and left to die on the floor.

“Time and again we’re told that ‘lessons will be learned’ and yet we see the same poor practice and system failures.

“A system that is not seen to deliver justice will continue to undermine public trust and confidence," she said.

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