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Report highlights police watchdog failures

DEATH IN CUSTODY: Sean Rigg

DEATH IN custody families and campaigners have welcomed a damning report from MPs that has criticised police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), for a string of failures, including often failing to adequately investigate many serious allegations against the police.

In its report, the Home Affairs Select Committee said the “woefully underequipped” and “hamstrung” IPCC was struggling to cope with the level of complaints - covering over 30,000 officers from 2011 to 2012- that were levelled against police forces.

The report raised several concerns, including that the IPCC had conducted surface investigations into some cases, employed too many ex-officers, who comprise a third of its investigators, and were referring too many cases to local police services.

The report confirmed concerns around racism and other issues that have long been expressed by grieving black families such as those of black musician Sean Rigg, who died after being restrained by officers at Brixton Police station in August 2008. Sean was having a mental health crisis at the time and his family members have long maintained their complaints about the investigation into his death were not handled properly.

Marcia Rigg-Samuel, Sean Rigg’s sister, said: “Our work seeking justice for Sean feels like it has not been in vain and this report shows the urgent need for change and reform so that other families are not failed by the IPCC in the way that we have been. We hope this report breaks the camel's back.”


WELCOMED REPORT: Sean Rigg's sister Marcia Rigg-Samuel (r) with siblings Wayne and Samantha

Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK, saidshe welcomed how the report had “put a spotlight on the abuses of vulnerable mental health service users at the hands of the police.

“We also support the calls that have been made to address the racism within the IPCC and the need to apply non discriminatory practices given the disproportionate number of cases involving ethnic minorities, particularly in relation to deaths in custody.”


RAISED CONCERNS: Matilda MacAttram

Deborah Coles, co-director of campaign group INQUEST, added: “We welcome this timely report and the Committee's findings that reflect many of our concerns and those of bereaved families.

“The report sends a final warning to the IPCC about the urgent need for fundamental change in its culture and approach.”

Coles said the IPCC “systematically fails to hold the police to account for wrongdoing and, as the Committee acknowledged, there is no statutory requirement for police forces to implement IPCC recommendations anyway.

“The importance of robust oversight of policing cannot be underestimated. It is alarming how many people die in police custody in tragically similar circumstances. Until we have robust independent investigations that are capable of holding police to account and ensuring learning is implemented people will continue to die.”

NEED FOR IPCC REFORM: Deborah Coles

The committee said the IPCC needed more Home Office funding, a rapid response investigative team and greater powers to tackle a slew of racism and other allegations against police forces, which are often better resourced than the IPCC.

IPPC chair, Dame Anne Owers, said the watchdog needs extra powers and funding to do the job properly. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme “there's quite a lot of validation in the report”.

She said: “…We cannot do the job the public expect us to be able to do and if we are to do that job then we need to be properly resourced to do it and given the proper powers to do it."

It has been reported that Parliament is already working on getting the IPCC extra powers and funding but many critics still remain sceptical. MacAttram said the current problems could continue if too many ex-police officers are recruited as IPCC investigators.

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