Sean Rigg custody death officer quits Metropolitan Police

PC Andrew Birks PC Andrew Birks is set to step down on 1 June

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The police watchdog has urged the Metropolitan Police to stop an officer quitting so he can face misconduct proceedings after a death in custody.

Senior arresting officer PC Andrew Birks is set to step down on Sunday.

The family of Sean Rigg, who died at Brixton police station in 2008 after being restrained, said they were "livid" about his resignation.

The Metropolitan Police said it was considering the Independent Police Complaints Commission's (IPCC) request.

The force added that until a decision was made it would be inappropriate to comment.

'Refuse' resignation

Mr Rigg, 40, who had schizophrenia, was arrested in Balham and taken to Brixton police station in August 2008 after attacking a man. He died at the station after a suffering a cardiac arrest.

The police watchdog's demand that Scotland Yard halts the resignation is highly unusual.

Sometimes police inform the IPCC if they think an officer who has faced investigation is considering departing - but in the case of PC Birks, neither the watchdog nor Sean Rigg's family saw this coming.

If the commissioner doesn't agree to stop the officer leaving, the only realistic option open to the family or IPCC would be to seek an emergency court order on Friday to allow a judge time to review whether the Met has acted lawfully.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May has separately pledged to stop officers who are facing scrutiny from resigning because she thinks that it damages public trust in the police.

Campaigners supporting that move say this is precisely the kind of departure that the home secretary must end.

An inquest into his death in 2012 heard the arresting officers restrained him for several minutes on the ground before taking him to the police station. It concluded that the officers had used "unsuitable force".

In April, the IPCC investigated evidence from the inquest and gave its findings to the CPS. The inquiry relates to two officers.

On 13 May, the High Court gave the watchdog permission to begin new disciplinary investigations.

But on 19 May, before the IPCC was able to serve formal notices of investigation, the Met told the watchdog that PC Birks would be leaving the force, which was accepted by the Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

In a statement, the IPCC said it had asked the Met to suspend the officer before his employment ends.

IPCC Commissioner Mary Cunneen said: "I am extremely disappointed that the Metropolitan Police Service did not notify the IPCC at the earliest opportunity that this officer was intending to leave the force with its approval.

"I have today written to the MPS to invite them, given the clear public interest in this case, to consider suspending the officer ahead of his departure taking effect and to then go on to refuse to allow him to leave.

"While the IPCC cannot prevent an officer leaving a force, we believe that it is unacceptable that officers can be allowed to do so and avoid the possibility of facing disciplinary proceedings."

'Extremely alarmed'

Sean Rigg's sister, Marcia Rigg, demanded Sir Bernard withdraw his acceptance.

Sean Rigg Sean Rigg died from cardiac arrest

She said: "The family of Sean Rigg is livid to say the least to learn that PC Andrew Birks, one of the arresting officers who was involved in the death of our beloved brother, Sean, has recently had his resignation accepted by the Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, to take effect on 1 June 2014 unless reversed.

"There is no doubt in our minds that this decision by PC Birks was taken to avoid the risk of him being held accountable for his conduct towards Sean on 21 August 2008 and acquiring a disciplinary record, possibly for gross misconduct.

She said if the resignation was allowed it would "destroy public confidence in the police complaints system".

Deborah Coles, from the charity Inquest, said: "This is not an isolated case but part of a systemic problem that allows the police to remain above the law."

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