A physically healthy man in mental crisis comes into contact with the police and dies within a short period of doing so, possibly whilst still in police custody. In those circumstances, we his family are entitled to an explanation of how and why he was detained; how he was restrained; and what happened in those crucial minutes between him being forced in a police van and his arriving at Brixton Police Station. However, nearly 5 months after Sean’s death, we are still to receive even a basic account of what happened on 21 August 2008. The officers who arrested Sean are still at work and have not yet been required to give any account of their actions. They have not been prevented from conferring over their version of events during that time. They have not to date in fact, been inter-viewed at all.
This is in stark contrast to what would have happened if a group of private individuals had bundled someone into a van and that person had subsequently died.
Sean’s family are not asking for special treatment: they are asking for what any loving family would ask for in relation to a relative who had died in police custody, namely a rigorous, impartial and transparent search for the truth.
|1. The manner in which Sean’s family were treated immediately following his death;
The Police FLOs tried to get the family to sign a form consenting to the release of Sean’s medical records. When asked by s family member, whether signing the form would mean the police could get access to Sean’s records, the FLOs failed to respond adequately, instead saying: “why would they want to?” and eventually indicating that the form would allow the police access to Sean’s records.
They told the family they would 'drip feed' information to them in the ensuing hours about how Sean had died. After the FLOs left, the family never saw or heard from them again.
2. Family actively discouraged from seeing Sean;
When a distraught family member asked the police FLO's whether they would need to go and identify Sean they were told that they could not identify his body as he was “sealed off” When they then asked how it could be known that it was really Sean, the FLOs offered to show them Sean’s passport.
2. Sean was not formally identified before the autopsy;
early the next morning a family member contacted the Coroner’s Office to try and get access to Sean’s body as at this stage the family could not even confirm that Sean was dead. The Coroner’s Office told that the family would be able to view Sean’s body after the post mortem. They were told that the post mortem would conclude at about 5pm on 22 August, at which point they would ring the family. In fact, no call was made. When the family rang the Coroner’s Office they just got an answer-phone. After many hours of disconcerted and irate phone calls to various authorities, the family were told they could only see Sean the following Tuesday (5 days after Sean had died). More calls were made including visits to Brixton Police station, the family were eventually told they could see Sean the following morning after the autopsy (2 days after Sean had died)
3. Family distress at seeing Sean
At the mortuary, the family were only allowed to see Sean’s body from behind a glass screen. They eventually persuaded the staff to remove the padlocks and pole and squeezed around the side of the room in order to see Sean properly. The family were horrified and shocked at seeing injuries they were clearly not informed about. Right from the beginning, therefore, they were highly suspicious as to how Sean had died and the manner in which the matter was being dealt.
4. The failure to investigate the death in a rigorous manner and to the same standard as a criminal investigation
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ramsahai v The Netherlands  ECHR 393, 15 May 2007 made clear that,
“in order to be ‘effective’ as this expression is to be understood in the context of Article 2 of the Convention, an investigation into a death that engages the responsibility of a Contracting Party under that Article must firstly be adequate. That is, it must be capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible. This is not an obligation of result, but one of means. The authorities must have taken the reasonable steps available to them to secure the evidence concerning the incident. Any deficiency in the investigation which undermines its ability to identify the perpetrator or perpetrators will risk falling foul of this standard” (para 324).
We draw your attention to the following specific examples of the ways in which the IPCC have failed to carry out an immediate and rigorous inquiry capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible:
- The IPCC failed to seal off the scene of Sean’s arrest and restraint.
Chris Patridge, the senior investigator at the time indicated that this was because the IPCC considered that the scene would already have been contaminated. they were given this information by Brixton Police Officers. Given that the IPCC were informed of the death on a couple of hours after the arrest; and given that it is unlikely that anyone walked across the area on which Sean was arrested during that time, we do not consider this reason to be in any way adequate.
- The IPCC failed to seize all CCTV immediately and in fact failed to identify all relevant CCTV
until representations were made on two separate occasions by this firm to Chris Patridge to the effect that the family were certain that there was another camera. Chris Patridge denied this and said that he had sent an investigator down to the police station to check. It was only when we asked for a map of all CCTV cameras in the station that Chris Patridge informed us that there was another camera. According to the CCTV report, the external CCTV cameras were not reviewed until 16 September 2008, nearly a month after Sean’s death.
- The IPCC refused to interview officers immediately as would have happened had Sean come to harm at the hands of members of the public. Instead, you allowed the police to decide the form in which they gave initial statements.
- The IPCC failed to interview police officers within a reasonable period of time.
The family sent a police complaint letter on 12 October 2008 as, 3 months after Sean’s death, the officers had still not been interviewed. The family cannot help but contrast this with the situation in the Ian Tomlinson case where the police officer was interviewed as soon as media pressure had been exerted.
- The IPCC have failed to interview the 999 call handlers over 9 months after Sean’s death
when inevitably memories will have faded; people will have had ample opportunity to collude;
- The IPCC have failed to take any steps to prevent the officers and civilian all handlers involved from colluding. As you know, it is not unlawful – and is in fact common practice - for officers to discuss their statements after a death in custody or other serious incident. The failure to interview the officers within a reasonable period of time and/or to take any other step to prevent them from colluding amounts to a significant failure and in our view undermines the credibility of the statements provided by the police. This cannot assist either party.
- The IPCC failed to get a full statement from a key witness within a reasonable period of time.
It is totally unacceptable that such a key statement should not have been taken immediately (we assume the witness was identified fairly soon after 21 August 2008); and that it should have then not been considered by Chris Patridge until 6 weeks after it was taken, despite him having been alerted to its existence.
- The IPCC have failed to identify and carry out crucial investigative work.
For example: Despite our having made representations on several occasions as to the significance of whether officers knew that the relevant CCTV cameras were working, the IPCC have refused to make this part of the investigation; Despite the family raising concerns as to whether Sean’s death might have been restraint-related, to our knowledge no restraint expert has been instructed.
Lack of independence/understanding
The IPCC have shown an inability or unwillingness to consider the facts from the position of the family; and to properly consider the possibility that the police officers involved may be guilty of wilful misconduct.
This has been reflected particularly in the following things:
The fact that the initial post mortem was carried out before Sean was formally identified by his family; with several police officers present; and with the briefing to the pathologist being given for an ex-MPS officer and possibly serving officers.
The refusal to interview the officers who arrested Sean immediately under criminal caution;
The refusal to suspect police officers of any wrong-doing unless there is conclusive evidence. In a response to a list of family questions put to the IPCC, The new senior investigator, Colin Dewar states: “Evidential matters were apparent at an early stage of the investigation but there was nothing to suggest any wrong doing by the officers and so it was not intended that they would be interviewed under caution at that time.” There was, however, a dead man with injuries to his face which the family had seen and who had, until his contact with Brixton police, been physically very healthy.
The IPCC’s policy of agreeing with the Police Federation the format of police interviews;
Chris Patridge’s (Senior investigator at the time) refusal to listen to family’s concerns about the instruction of ex Police officer as the CCTV expert;
5. Formal complaint aganst the IPCC's senior investigator
Sean’s family consider it deeply concerning that despite the IPCC having been alerted to the failures of Mr Patridge, the former senior investigator, no disciplinary action has been taken. Mr Patridge is therefore presumably working on other serious and important investigations.
Sean’s family therefore were forced to make a formal complaint against Mr Patridge in respect of his handling of the investigation, which in our minds has damaged this investigation into Sean's death.
We deem it to be neither independent, fair, competent or robust.
1. Scene of arrest not sealed off
Despite the fact that the IPCC were alerted to the incident shortly after Sean’s death. The investigator dealing with the case at the time considered that there was no point in sealing off the area as it had already been contaminated. However, we understand that the area where Sean would have been arrested and restrained is seldom visited
2. Crucial CCTV missing
The existence of the camera and the fact of its not working were only admitted after repeated representations being made to the IPCC that such a camera existed. Similarly, the IPCC only agreed to make the disappearance of the CCTV part of the terms of reference following representations on behalf of the family. The IPCC indicated that they would report back on the CCTV issue by the end of 2008 but we are still waiting for their report.
3. Criminal investigation
Despite the manner of Sean’s death, the IPCC are refusing to treat the whole matter as a criminal investigation. Nearly 5 months after Sean’s death, no statements had been taken from the officers involved and no explanation has been put forward as to what happened in the police van on the way to the station.
The fact that there was no CCTV in the van is a separate concern.
4. Police interviews under caution
The IPCC have refused to interview the officers involved under caution in relation to the whole incident, despite representations being made as to why not inter-viewing them under caution could jeopardise a future criminal or disciplinary case. The IPCC appear to be suggesting that they cannot interview the officers unless the family withdraw their formal complaint against the officers.