333 Deaths in Police Custody since 1998, Zero Prosecutions: Where is the Justice?


This afternoon, the Mark Duggan Inquest has concluded that officers who shot Duggan dead on Tottenham in August 2011, acted lawfully. The Jury voted 8-2 that although Duggan was unarmed, and did not present an immediate or real threat to the police – the police were right to kill him at the time.  But the Duggan family join a long queue of others, seeking justice for unexplained deaths in police custody.
There have been more than 333 suspicious deaths in police custody since 1998…and zero officers convicted.  Where is the justice?
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.
After 5 long years, the Independent Police Complaints Commission finally upheld the 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.
But Sean’s case is one of many. 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

4 thoughts on “333 Deaths in Police Custody since 1998, Zero Prosecutions: Where is the Justice?

  1. To put your poorly researched rant into context, in the 17 year period between 1998 and 2015 18.9 million arrests were made in the UK resulting in 350 deaths within 48 hours of being in custody. That equates to 0.0008162 per cent of detainees unfortunately passing on within 48 hours of a period in custody. I am still unsure how dying 48 hours after being released from custody can constitute dying in custody! Maybe I should ask my employer to carry on paying me for 48 hours after I have left off work because I’m still thinking about the job!
    When you analyse the data more closely around 60 per cent of the 350 that died had mental health issues. That begs the question as to whether they would ever have come into contact with Police had appropriate services, treatment and accommodation have been available? They were not because this austerity obsessed government has decimated the funding and left law enforcement to deal with the results.
    Of the 350 who died nearly 90 per cent has issues with drugs or alcohol. Once again a symptom of how austerity has let down another vulnerable group of people in an increasingly money fixated society.
    The facts and stats hardly suggest a Police Service prone to brutality and torture. In fact there is a statistically higher chance of being killed by a negligent surgeon, but no one suggests Surgeons are setting out to kill patients!
    The real anger should be directed at the government who have presided over the dismantling of the mental health care system.
    There is no police conspiracy to kill detainees, just a system set up to leave the Police to clear up the mess other people make.

  2. I’m speechless. As a diagnozed “schizophrenic” but really as someone who has suffered trauma and has been conveniently labelled mad I do often feel like I’m as hated as a Jew in Nazi Germany. Fact: mental health sufferers who, might I add, often have very good reasons for their problems suffer more on account of stigma and bigotry associated with ill mental health than they do directly as a result of their symptoms. Britain is a totalitarian state, a land where the elite are in collusion with the hating mob, and any vestige of the propaganda that England is a peaceful and “moral” country is soon to founder as England falls into ochlocracy (mob rule) and its own version of national socialism. It’s amazing I’m alive and as well as I am given the dire state of this nation and the world generally and given the fact that I’m painfully aware of the dark times we live in.

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