'Significant risk' for mental health patients in custody

Sean Rigg
Image caption Sean Rigg was said to have been restrained for eight minutes

A coroner has warned there is a "significant risk" for mental health patients who come into contact with the police when they are in a crisis.

Last month an inquest decided officers at Brixton police station used "unsuitable" force in restraining musician Sean Rigg.

The 40-year-old paranoid schizophrenic died in police custody four years ago.

Coroner Andrew Harris has said he will publish his final recommendations later.

He has highlighted the key issues he will look at in his Rule 43 report:

  • Joint mental health protocols across London are not clear. He said he was not fully satisfied that the risks of failure of the various parties caring for mental health patients in a crisis will not be repeated.
  • The failure of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM) to undertake a mental health assessment.
  • He said he could not be sure that Metropolitan Police emergency call operators were adequately trained in mental health issues. He will recommend a force-wide review of training.
  • The lack of assessment of mental health issues the police officers who arrested Mr Rigg had.
  • Unsuitable force and length of restraint.
  • He said officers were too focussed on the risk of violence and not on the potential mental health issues.

"There remains a significant risk that similar deaths could occur," Mr Harris said.

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Media captionSean Rigg's sister Marcia said it was "imperative that things change"

However Mr Harris said police were putting in place better facilities at Brixton to handle mental health patients.

He also recognised assurances by SLAM that they were addressing clinical risk assessments properly.

Mr Harris added that he would not deal with issues being dealt with in two separate Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) reviews.

Final call

Mr Rigg was held after a claim he had attacked passers-by in Balham.

During the inquest, Southwark Coroner's Court was told Mr Rigg, a karate expert, had not been taking his medication.

Returning a narrative verdict, jurors found police handling of the death had showed an "absence of leadership".

Mr Rigg, who had a history of problems with the law, threatened staff at a hostel he was living in.

Staff there made four emergency calls to police over three hours but help did not arrive.

When they made their final call, he had left the hostel and was then reported to have attacked a young couple.

Within 10 minutes of the report, he was restrained by three police officers on the Weir Estate in Brixton.

Later that evening he collapsed at Brixton police station suffering from a heart arrhythmia, which was the medical cause of Mr Rigg's death.

The court heard he had been physically fit before he died.

The jury found police restrained Mr Rigg in the prone position for eight minutes while he was being arrested, a length of time that "more than minimally" contributed to his death.

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