Five Metropolitan Police officers, who have had their lives and their careers effectively put on hold for nearly 11 years, have finally been cleared of misconduct over the arrest and detention of Sean Rigg, who died in custody in 2008.
Police Constables Andrew Birks, Richard Glasson, Matthew Forward, Mark Harratt and Sergeant Paul White all faced Metropolitan Police disciplinary proceedings more than a decade after the 40-year-old died.
The investigations have taken so long that Mr Birks is now an ordained priest, although he is still paid a police salary because he was denied permission to resign while proceedings were ongoing.
Today (Friday 1st March) the chairman of the hearing panel Commander Julian Bennett said:
“The decision of the panel is that none of the allegations
The musician died at Brixton Police Station in August 2008, and it was four years before the full inquest into his death took place, with jurors finding “unsuitable” force was used.
It was another four years before prosecutors finally confirmed no criminal charges would be brought over his death, bar one count of perjury against Mr White, who was later cleared.
Police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has come under intense fire for the extensive delays in the case, and a failure with its initial investigation to get to grips with basic issues.
Charity Inquest claimed the “flimsy” inquiry had failed to secure comprehensive first accounts from the officers for six months or test their evidence against photographs and CCTV.
After the probe was reopened, the IPCC (now re-named the Independent Office for Police Conduct) took a different approach, carrying out dawn raids and seizing Mr Harratt’s personal phone as they looked into claims of dishonesty.
The disciplinary case, brought by the Metropolitan Police and the IOPC, began to crumble in mid-February when a number of the charges were thrown out.
Gross misconduct charges over claims that Mr Harratt, Mr Glasson and Mr Forward lied about Mr Rigg “spinning” himself around in the back of the police van collapsed after the panel found that the evidence against the officers was “extremely tenuous”.
An expert witness who was asked to make a 3D animation of a figure in the back of a police van initially concluded that it was highly unlikely for Mr Rigg to have moved in the way described.
But he changed his conclusion when shown a video of Mr Rigg moving around in the way described, and stressed to the hearing that the software used was not meant for forensic purposes.
A pathologist who had been due to give evidence on the count was unable to appear in person to be cross-examined so his account was ruled inadmissible.
Another witness, Inspector Andrew Dunn, refused to give any verbal evidence to the panel in protest at the length of time it had taken to bring proceedings.
He repeatedly referred lawyers back to his written statement and refused to say whether he recognised himself in CCTV footage from the police station on the night Mr Rigg died.
The panel also found no case to answer for a separate count against Mr Harratt over an alleged failure to check Mr Rigg’s passport details on the Police National Computer.
The Police Federation of England & Wales has been campaigning hard to put statutory time limits on the amount of time that it takes for the IOPC to carry out and conclude its investigations.
A statement made by a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Federation said:
“The outcome today means our colleagues can finally get on with their careers and lives having been investigated for this incident for the past 11 years.
“Police officers have no issue with being held accountable for their actions – we are the most accountable of public services. But how can it be just or justified to have your lives put on hold for so long?
“This was a failed Independent Police Complaints Commission legacy investigation and questions have to be asked about the time it has taken to get to this point – and the standard of the IPCC investigation.
“All investigations into the conduct of officers must be fair, timely and transparent and we can only hope that under its relatively new guise of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the service to both police officers and complainants is much improved.
“We must pay credit to our colleagues for maintaining their professionalism and dignity throughout the process and we wish them and their families well as they get on with their lives.
“We also thank their legal team Reynolds Dawson Solicitors and Three Raymond Buildings Barristers for their hard work.”
A spokesperson for the Police Federation of England & Wales said:
“The Police Federation of England and Wales has been highly critical of the time taken to conclude an investigation into the conduct of five police officers following the death of a man in 2008, branding it ‘totally unacceptable’.
“This morning, in the culmination of a process which has lasted more than 10 years, all the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing with a Metropolitan Police misconduct panel finding “none of the allegations [are] proved”.
“PCs Andrew Birks, Richard Glasson, Matthew Forward, Mark Harratt and Sergeant Paul White had all been accused of breaching standards of professional behaviour after the death of Sean Rigg in August 2008”.
Phill Matthews, national Conduct and Performance Lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, welcomed the decision of the panel:
“It must be a huge relief for the five officers, their families and their colleagues that this process has finally come to an end.
“Clearly it is right that the incident was investigated and scrutinised but it has taken more than 10 years – which is totally unacceptable.
“All parties have had to endure this unnecessarily protracted process and it has consumed the lives of all involved.
“No police officer goes to work wanting to be involved in an
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), as was, 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”.
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.
Last year Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), formerly the IPCC, directed the Metropolitan Police to begin gross misconduct hearings against the five officers over their actions, as well as allegations they misled the inquest.
Mr Matthews continued:
“The IOPC has serious questions to answer about their handling of this case; why it has taken 10 years to finalise and what was the justification for putting all involved through a decade’s worth of stress and worry.
“As well as the catastrophic human cost, this process highlights the need for statutory time limits for these investigations to be introduced and I have written to the Home Secretary asking for a rationale why these matters are allowed to drag on indefinitely with no time limit considering the seriously detrimental effect it has on all those involved.
“We need legal protection for our members to ensure this situation can never happen again,” he concluded
Retired Metropolitan Police Officer, Graham Wettone, told Emergency Services News:
“It is scandalous for everyone involved that this took 10 years to come to this decision.
“I know the new management at IOPC
“Police officers & bereaved families are both reliant on a balanced and fair complaints procedure but one that is conducted as expeditiously as possible for both parties.
“There is no satisfaction in this result only frustration and anger it has taken this long”.
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Absolutely scandalous. Would the IPCC/IOPCC have spent over ten years investigating this if the suspect had been white? I wouldn’t have thought so, because in this circumstance the issues become politicised and just drags on and on and on. I hope the IOPCC are sued by these officers as their careers and lives have been utterly destroyed.