2,814 Deaths of the Mentally Ill in Police Custody, Zero Prosecutions: Where is the Justice?

After 5 long years, the family of Sean Rigg, who died in police custody have the possibility of seeing some justice.  The 40 year old, suffering serious mental health issues, died in police custody in 2008.  The initial police investigation of the death was challenged by the family, so set up their own investigation and campaigned for years for justice.  Today, the Independent Police Complaints Commission upheld their concerns, reopened the case and three officers have been arrested. I have been covering this story since 2010, and am over the moon for Marcia Rigg and the other loved ones of Sean Rigg.
There have been nearly 6,000 deaths in police custody since the year 2000, and 2, 814 of these were of people detained under the Mental Health Act…Could this be the first step in bringing justice to these unlawful deaths?
The Death of Sean Rigg
On 21st August 2008, a mentally ill man named Sean Rigg suffered a breakdown at his supported hostel in Brixton. Sean was 40 years old and physically fit despite his mental health problems. He had been taken into mental care by police officers before and was known as vulnerable.He was a musician and artists, dealing with Schizophrenia. He had been doing well, but then something went wrong.  He left the hostel in an emotionally disturbed state and members of the hostel made 6 calls to 999 in a bid to raise the alarm and have Sean transported to the nearest hospital for treatment. A member of the public also dialled 999 after seeing Sean in such a state. At about 7pm, Sean was picked up by police, charged with a public order offense, handcuffed and taken to the station in a bobby van. The van arrived at the station at 7.30pm, Sean was taken, semi clothed, to a cage outside of the station and locked in. He was pronounced dead at hospital in the following hours.
Before today’s results, the family have been through an inquest, an appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), House of commons questions by MP Sadiq Khan, and all with no result , no prosecution, not even so much as a cause of death.
Furthermore, the family of Sean Rigg have been fed a string of conflicting reports on the nature of Sean’s death. One of the sinister aspects of the case was the absence of any CCTV footage from the station. Initially, the police denied that there were any cameras on the premises pointed at the cage Sean was detained in.   Then, once the family had been to the station and seen the two cameras overlooking the cage where Sean died, the station announced that the cameras hadn’t worked for some time. Later, once referred to the IPCC, it was discovered that there were both CCTV and audio taken of Sean’s arrest and arrival at Brixton police station.  The family recorded a conversation with Chief Inspector Suzanne Wallace stating clearly that the CCTV was working and that the tapes had been supplied to the IPCC.
The IPCC however, never seized the tapes.
After months of investigation it was concluded that there was no obvious cause of injury leading to Sean’s death.
Today’s result means there is a new hope of justice for Sean and his family.
But Sean’s case is one of more than 2,000 cases where a person who should have been taken for mental health treatment was treated as a criminal.  No one knows what happened to kill and young man in his physical prime that night, but we do know he died on the concrete floor of a cage, in a police yard, in the middle of a psychotic episode.  His family remain committed to finding out what on earth happened to Sean.
The Death of Faisal al-Ani?
In the same year, 43 year old Faisal al-Ani was arrested in Southend on Sea town centre while suffering from an acute psychotic illness. Hours later, he was dead.  Police stated he had collapsed and died after walking into the station.
However, CCTV footage of the arrest showed Mr al-Ani being taken to the ground in a major struggle involving multiple officers, being pinned to the floor for five minutes with a number of officers on his back and a foot in his neck, and later footage showed him being carried unconscious into the police station, not walking as the police had reported.
Despite all of this, after referral to the CPS, no charges were to be brought against any officer involved. This is all the more bizarre considering they found that:“Medical reports indicate that Mr Al-Ani died as the result of a combination of factors, principally an underlying heart problem associated with a struggle and restraint.”Therefore one could surely conclude that had Mr al-Ani been treated as a mental patient and not a criminal he may well have not died that day.  The jury at Inquest felt differently, and Faisal al-Ani received no justice for dying during what is clearly a mental health episode.
The Death of Kingsley Burrell

KB129 year old Kingsley Burrell was detained under the Mental Health Act by West Midlands Police on March 27th 2011. Four days later, he was dead.

Kingsley, a trainee security guard, had dialled 999 after being threatened by a group of men while with his young son.  However, when police turned up, they arrested Kingsley and detained him under the Mental Health Act.  His family insist he had no prior history of mental health issues.
Three days later, officers were called to an ‘incident’ involving Kingsley at the Mary Seacole Institute in Winson Green, where he was still detained.  He died during this incident.
The IPCC launched an immediate investigation.  But more than a year later, in July 2012, Kingsley’s body had still not been released and no cause of death had been established. The body was finally released on the 18th of July following a large protest by supporters of the family’s quest for justice. His well attended funeral took place in Birmingham last August.
His sister, Kadisha says: “I personally don’t have much confidence in the IPCC investigation and we have not been kept informed.

“The family has now attended eight or nine pre-inquest hearings, yet still nobody can tell us what or who killed Kingsley.
‘‘It’s not fair on his children, especially his little boy who can’t stop thinking and talking about what happened that day.”
Last month, four police officers were arrested after refusing to be interviewed by the IPCC for their investigation into the suspicious death of Kingsley Burrell.  The hunt for justice continues.
We Need to Bring the Justice
There are people working tirelessly to hold to account the people responsible for the deaths Sean Rigg, Faisal al-Ani, Kingsley Burrell and the hundred of others who have lost their lives in suspicious circumstances in the custody of the police.
Police officers are human beings.  Where a genuine mistake has been made, the person needs to be held to account under their responsibility as a police officer. That responsibility should be accepted and administered with proportionality and understanding.
Where an act of brutality has taken place, the same responsibility must be administered with a large audience so people know they are safe and that when the police pick them up, in error or otherwise, that they are not inherently at risk of death.
These cases need to come before the courts of the law, not police inquiries and internal disciplinary proceedings.  If I wrestled a person to the ground and restrained them until they passed out and died, I wouldn’t go through a grievance procedure, I’d go to court.
It should be the same deal for the police when they cross the line.
Take Action

Watch and promote the film Injustice which seeks to tell the untold story of deaths in prison primarily among ethnic minority men since 1969
Lend support to the family campaign for justice for Sean Rigg
Lend support to the family campaign for justice for Kingsley Burrell

17 thoughts on “2,814 Deaths of the Mentally Ill in Police Custody, Zero Prosecutions: Where is the Justice?

  1. Pingback: 2814 Mental health deaths in police custody – Scriptonite Daily 17 May 2013 | Recompenz

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  4. The bas*ards almost killed me 9 years ago and it’s been covered up from the Police Complaints Commission all the way up to Keith Vaz chairman and the rest of the House of Commons Home affairs select committee.

  5. The police are supposed to protect not bully, at one time this was so. The majority of the police are bullies, they don the uniform and become power mad. The times my sons have been pulled for nothing and subjected to their nasty attitude for no reason. The other day a friend of mine was tailgated by police for no reason then drove off, why was this, because they can. They do what they like when they like.

  6. The Police officers involved must be held account, in exactly the same way as any other person for deaths and injuries caused while being taken into custody and while being in custody. At present the Police are not subject to the same laws as everyone else, which means that they can indulge in brutality and show neglect of care with almost absolute impunity. This is a shameful situation.

  7. The police are the last people who should be involved with any vulnerable citizen suffering from mental illness or experiencing a psychotic episode-they have no training or expertise in these often complex cases nor indeed any empathy-they are essentially a part of the repressive systemic control system and restraint is their means of controlling that which becomes psychically unboundaried and therefore physically unconfined- the risk of death always being a potential outcome to their interventions. One death is one too many-2814 appears to be state sanctioned mass murder and should be a national scandal . A radically different approach is required that keeps the police out, wherever possible and employs different agencies who have a high level of expertise and training-but we know mental heath is a cinderella service: what I suggest would cost money and therefore I’m in cloud cuckoo land, fortunately I’m still relatively sane!

  8. All police have a licence to kill and know they’ll be backed up by the police family/brotherhood and legal , in cases such as the ones listed.

    Occasionally, one of their own is made an example of and put through the legal system overtly, to make all the proles believe there is such a thing as justice.

  9. 2,814 deaths is a lot of terminal restraint gone wrong.
    Basically the police have a license to kill as they know that the chances of being held to account are slim, as the figures show.
    The IPCC have failed again and again and are certainly not fit for purpose.
    Most police investigations are internal and you may be shocked and amazed that often nobody did anything at all and it’s all a mystery. OR it could just be that the UK is sliding into a police state where the police kill with impunity.

    Off topic but relevant I think – The police want murder of a police person to mean a sentence of life (for life) – Um, why just for the police and not also for the proles? Just a thought.

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  11. This is a very tricky area. I worked in mental health and saw the effects of rough policing on vulnerable mental health patients. On the other hand I was involved in restraining out of control patients. If you don’t do this is it is very disturbing for others, but at the same time very distressing for the restrained individual. It feels almost like a loose loose situation. I would be wary about judging people involved i restraint unless you have experienced it first hand. Serious mental health problems are just plain awful and painful. I think we need compassion both for those who suffer from mental health problems and those who are in the very difficult position have trying to manage them.

    • it may be uncomfortable to accept but when over 2000 thousand people have been killed by police you know that this theme of behaviour only points to one thing…. the police are brutal thuggish disgusting human beings… not all but you can only take it from the figures. i am disgusted by this and may these murdering thugs pay their price in the next life, universal law will condemn them

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