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POLICE SERGEANT FOUND ‘NOT GUILTY’ OF PERJURY FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF SEAN RIGG IN 2008
A jury today found Sergeant Paul White of the Metropolitan Police not guilty of perjury. The trial followed an investigation into Sgt White’s evidence at the inquest concerning the death of Sean Rigg.
This was the first time criminal charges for perjury have been bought against a serving police officer following a death in police custody.
Sgt White was the custody officer on duty the night that Sean Rigg died at Brixton police station on 21st August 2008.
Evidence cited during the trial demonstrated Sgt White had given a detailed but false version of events the night Sean died. His statement said he checked on Sean in the police van, but CCTV evidence proved this was not the case.
This landmark case, whilst failing to secure a criminal conviction, highlights three critical lessons for future prosecutions:
Victim Right to Review – without this and the family’s determination, a case of such public importance would never have come to trial. The Crown Prosecution Service should have acted on the evidence earlier, saving the family and other parties two more years of uncertainty and legal costs.
Unacceptable length and poor quality of IPCC investigations – it has been four years since the damning inquest into Sean’s death and eight years since his death. IPCC failings going back to 2008 and 2009, including delays and inaction, allowed unchallenged false evidence to go before the inquest, and ultimately provided Sgt White with a plausible explanation for his false evidence. Urgent lessons must be leant by the state bodies responsible for oversight and accountability following a death in police custody, to prevent a repeat of the exhaustive delays in this case.
- All police officers have a professional duty to provide a full and truthful account of events, where there has been a death in police custody. Officers are not above the law and if it is believed that officers have not given true and accurate evidence, they will be held to account. Families will pursue the truth.
Marcia Rigg, Sean Rigg’s sister and campaigner said:
“I am devastated. The jury’s verdict was a surprise to me and my family, but I will continue to fight for full accountability for those officers who were on duty at Brixton Police Station. That a custody sergeant can give false evidence in connection with a death in custody, something he accepts he did, is a shocking state of affairs. I await the MPS decision on disciplinary charges on this issue.
The fact that Sgt White’s defence rested on the failure of the IPCC to challenge his false evidence in March 2009 is a cause of significant public concern. The public is entitled to expect better from the police and those who are charged with ensuring police accountability.
I will be raising with the CPS, and if necessary Parliamentarians, the question of what ‘agreed facts’ go before criminal juries in relation to deaths in custody, given that the narrative conclusion of the inquest jury was excluded from the criminal trial.”
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said:
“Sean Rigg’s family have struggled at every stage of this eight year process for honesty, truth and justice.The failure of the IPCC to conduct an efficient, robust and competent investigation and the inexcusable delays in CPS decision making have been exposed as a barrier to proper democratic police accountability. If left unchecked, this institutional inertia will allow abuses of power to go undeterred and continue to undermine public confidence in the police complaints system.”
Daniel Machover, solicitor for the Rigg family said:
“Despite the verdict it was right that the issues in this very tragic case were aired in front of a jury. True police accountability requires a willingness by CPS to prosecute in appropriate cases. The Rigg family showed courage and persistence in their pursuit of justice, and achieved the first ever use of the Victim’s Right of Review to change a CPS decision not to prosecute a police officer.
However, the process had already been severely flawed by the seven month delay in interviewing Sergeant Paul White, and the further lapse of three years before Sgt White gave evidence at his trial. He then successfully argued that his memory of the event was compromised by the delay. The failure in this respect lies squarely at the door of the IPCC.
It is a long march towards full justice and accountability for victims of excessive force at the hands of police, but this case represents a significant milestone.”
INQUEST has been working with the family of Sean Rigg since his death in August 2008. The Rigg family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Daniel Machover and Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose Solicitors; Leslie Thomas QC and Tom Stoate of Garden Court Chambers; and Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers.
Notes to editors:
Marcia Rigg, Daniel Machover and Deborah Coles are available for interview.
For media enquiries, please contact Gill Goodby at INQUEST on 0207 263 1111.
• Sean Rigg died in Brixton police station in August 2008 following prolonged restraint by police.
• In August 2012, the jury at the inquest returned a damning verdict criticising the actions of the police and the unsuitable use of restraint.
• Since then, an independent review heavily criticised the original IPCC investigation and the IPCC made the decision to re-open the disciplinary and criminal investigations into Sean’s death. The CPS decided no officer will face charges in relation to Sean Rigg’s death.
INQUEST provides specialist advice on deaths in custody or detention or involving state failures in England and Wales. This includes a death in prison, in police custody or following police contact, in immigration detention or psychiatric care. INQUEST's policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths.
Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.
‘I very much admire the Co-Directors of INQUEST who have committed their professional lives to speaking up for bereaved families and helping them seeking justice for their loved ones.They work every day with the victims of tragic circumstances and I think we can all learn from their strength, tenacity and professionalism.’
– Katy Swaine, former Legal Director for Children’s Rights Alliance for England