Friday marked the one year anniversary of the death of Sean Rigg. He died while in police custody after he was brought to Brixton police station where he was placed in a metal cage outside at the back of the station. His family and the United campaign against police violence organised a rally followed by vigil outside Brixton police station to demand justice for Sean Rigg and for other deaths in police custody. Black men figure prominently among the death in custody, and Brixton police has been involved in too many of these.
We walked from the street where Sean Rigg was living up to the Brixton police station. Families and friends of several men killed in police custody had joined the vigil and said a few words. Jo Lang, a friend of Blair Peach who died 30 years after being hit on the head by a police officer at a demonstration, stressed the necessary unity of this campaign, "there are numerous more people who are killed in police custody but we never hear about them because there is no one speaking out for them. That is why it is so important we are here today." Thirty year later, the Cass report into the police actions on the day Blair Peach died has still not been released, though when it is eventually published Jo Lang expects it to be heavily redacted. Marcia Rigg-Samuel and Samantha Rigg-David explained what little they have managed to find out about the death of their brother, and the many failures of the IPCC. It may be years before an inquest in Sean Rigg's death happens. The evening concluded with the release of black balloons, some from a coffin, and lighting of candlelights.
What is known of what happened to the CCTV footage gives all the impression of a cover up. Here's the situation about the missing CCTV recordings as described in a Guardian article by Paul Lewis (the Guardian also published a video about the family's campaign to find out what actually happened):
There were no cameras in the police van that took Rigg to the police station and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is expected to complete its investigation next month, initially told Rigg's family that only CCTV footage seized from inside the station showed the cage where he died – and the cameras involved had limited views.
Convinced there were more outdoor cameras nearby, Rigg's family demanded an audit of security cameras at the station. IPCC investigators then conceded there were more cameras overlooking the cage. But two weeks later, they said they had tried to obtain the tapes and found the recorders had not been working for three months.
Rigg's family suspect a cover-up. The IPCC's claim about CCTV contradicts repeated assurances given to the family by a senior police officer two days after Rigg died. Suzanne Wallace, a chief inspector who was in charge of the station, was caught on tape saying CCTV was working and recordings had been seized.
For Rigg's family, the missing CCTV footage raises serious questions about the actions of police on 21 August last year. They want to know why he was left for an hour in an outdoor cage, which functions as a station holding area, rather than taken into the custody suite.
One theory held by the family is that officers knew the cage was in a CCTV "blind spot" and left Rigg there so there would be less evidence of his deteriorating condition upon arrival at the station.
Another is that the tapes were destroyed during the 27 days it took the IPCC to attempt to seize footage from outdoor cameras.
Rigg's sister Marcia, 45, said: "It is my opinion that this is a deliberate cover-up by the police, and the IPCC [by failing to rigorously investigate] are allowing that cover-up. It's all part of collusion and to me the IPCC are certainly not independent."
Records show some cameras at Brixton police station were reported as faulty. However an annual maintenance check of all CCTV completed on 12 August, nine days before Rigg died, found no problems with the cameras that the family believe should have recorded Rigg's last moments alive.
The van entered the police yard at 7.53pm and Rigg was left inside for about 10 minutes before officers escorted him to the cage. CCTV inside the station's custody area recorded obscured footage of Rigg in the cage. His family, who have watched the images, say they show him collapse repeatedly and lose consciousness.
In the family's view, the IPCC has yet to give an adequate explanation about the missing CCTV. "That was the way we were going to find out what was going to happen that night," said Wayne Rigg. "We were told that the cameras were working. We went and saw the positions of these cameras. Then to be told the cameras weren't working – we were devastated."
This follows a similar patter to what happened more recently when Ian Tomlinson died after being hit by police officers during the G20 demonstration, the story about the CCTV evolved from denial to possible existence. Unfortunately for the Rigg family there was no independent amateur footage available.
Update: Fourmanfilms has posted a video filmed at the rally and vigil.>
First published on 2009-08-23; last updated on 2009-08-24.