Theresa May has launched an independent review into deaths in police custody in England and Wales.
Speaking yesterday at Brixton Recreation Centre, May said every single death “represents a failure” and that she had “been struck by the pain and suffering of families” who encountered “evasiveness and obstruction” from the authorities.
The home secretary thanked Sean Rigg’s family for sharing their experiences with her.
Rigg, who suffered from Schizophrenia, died of a cardiac arrest at Brixton Police Station in 2008 after being restrained in the prone position by officers for more than eight minutes.
Marcia Rigg-Samuel, Rigg’s sister, said she hoped to see “real change.”
Rigg-Samuel said: “What is extraordinary is the systematic failures and the answers that we cannot get from the state officials.”
“Families should not have to be campaigning to find out the truth,” she said. “For other families I want them not to have to go through what I’ve been through.”
May’s announcement came as the Independent Police Complaints Commission published their annual statistics on deaths in police custody.
In 2014/15, there were 17 deaths in or following police custody, a rise from 11 for the previous year – and the highest figure for five years.
May said the review would “examine the procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody” and “identify areas for improvement and develop recommendations to ensure appropriate, humane institutional treatment when such incidents occur.”
She said the review would be lead by someone “willing to ask difficult questions.”
In her speech, May said: “Police custody is the place where a number of dynamics meet. It is the place where dangerous and difficult criminals are rightly locked-up, where officers and staff regularly face violent, threatening and abusive behaviour, and where the police use some of their most sensitive and coercive powers.
“But it is also a place where all too often vulnerable people, often those with mental health problems, are taken because there is no other place to go.
“Vulnerable people like Sean Rigg who died not far from here in Brixton Police Station.
“No one – least of all police officers – wants such incidents to happen, and I know everyone involved takes steps to avoid them. But when such incidents do occur, every single one represents a failure – and has the potential to undermine dramatically the relationship between the public and the police.
“In my time as Home Secretary, I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers, who have encountered not compassion and redress from the authorities, but what they feel as evasiveness and obstruction.”