“I don’t think we’ll ever get full justice”, Marcia Rigg says. “But I really want to try and make a difference – and for there to be some changes.”
Being an activist is something Marcia never planned on. However, following the death of her brother Sean whilst in police custody in 2008, by her own admission, her life completely changed.
Previously, Marcia was a legal PA in the City, but her life is now devoted to campaigning in the memory of her brother and on behalf of other individuals and families who are affected by deaths in custody. She says: “When [Sean] died I was shocked, horrified and distraught at the amount of deaths that have happened in police custody…because of this I’ve been campaigning, not only for Sean, but for others as well.”
Sean Rigg, 40, suffered from schizophrenia. It was during a psychotic episode that he was arrested for an alleged public disturbance. He later died in a holding cell at Brixton police station after being restrained in the prone position for eight minutes. The official cause of death was a cardiac arrest and partial positional asphyxiation. An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found no evidence of wrongdoing by the police.
This was not accepted by Rigg’s family and a Coroner’s Inquest soon begun. The inquest recorded a narrative verdict, finding that the failings of police combined with those of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust “more than minimally” contributed to Sean’s death. The jury stated: “Whilst Sean Rigg was in custody the police failed to uphold his basic rights and omitted to deliver the appropriate care.”
For the first time an independent external review of the original IPCC investigation was conducted after the coroner’s verdict. The review was highly critical of the first investigation, saying the IPCC committed “blunder after blunder”.
Evidently it has been a long journey for Marcia: “What is alarming, frustrating and traumatic for my family is the length of time that it takes to conduct an investigation.”
As the situation currently stands, the IPCC have ordered two criminal investigations: one considering charges of perjury and the second, Sean’s death.
ELL meets Marcia before she sits on a Stand up to Racism panel at Goldsmiths on February 10, alongside Shakeel Begg from the Lewisham Islamic Centre and local representatives from the Labour and Green parties.
Race enters Marcia’s dialogue as she explains that over half of the deaths in police custody are black men with mental health issues, which she says is clearly “disproportionate”. She believes the police are institutionally racist, which is evident in controversial stop and search techniques.
However treatment of those with mental health problems and policing are the focal point of Marcia’s campaign: “Mental health has no colour. We are human beings and people should be treated as such because they are vulnerable. A police cell has no safety for someone with mental health issues.”
One in four British people are thought to be affected by mental health issues, which is why Marcia asks her audiences at meetings to raise their hand if they know a family member or close friend suffering from such issues. “The majority of the room put their hands up. It is an issue that affects everybody”, she says.
Marcia reflects that the circumstances of her brother’s death have “taken over [her] life” and been “very traumatic”. She says: “It is difficult but this is the way I have been able to channel my grief.”
Marcia has met with ministers including Theresa May. Among Marcia’s recommendations are implementing cameras in the back of all police vehicles and preventing police officers from retiring whilst under any disciplinary proceedings – which one of the officers involved in Sean’s death tried to do. Just last month the Home Office brought in new regulations to prevent police officers “retiring or resigning to avoid dismissal”.
She reflects on her achievements: “The response I get back from the community is that the issues of mental health have been raised… there have been a few changes and issues are being talked about but we still have a long way to go.”
When asked about what the future entails, Marcia is pensive: “At the moment any plans for the future are on hold pending the current investigations. In the meantime I will continue campaigning, I also hope to write a book about my journey.”
She reflects that almost seven years of campaigning have taken their toll on her, but affirms: “I’m still standing and I’m not ready to give up… it’s my loved one, it’s my brother.”