Publications on the internet
Home affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 494
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 23 October 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Deborah Coles, Co-Director, INQUEST, and Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg, gave evidence.
Q94 Chair: I refer everyone present to the Register of Members’ Interests, where the interests of members of this Committee are noted, and can I welcome Deborah Coles and Marcia Rigg, our current witnesses in the Committee’s inquiry into the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Thank you very much for coming. I apologise for the delay in welcoming you to the dais. Can I start with you, Deborah Coles? You have a lot of interest and a lot of experience in dealing with these matters. I was perplexed with a figure that I was given, that in the last 20 years no one has been prosecuted for a death in police custody even though there were nine verdicts of unlawful killing. That is a surprise to me. Why do you think that is?
Deborah Coles: Just to clarify that, there have been prosecutions. There has never been a successful prosecution, just to clear that up, and obviously most recently there was the prosecution of the officer in the Ian Tomlinson case. But, quite rightly, there have been nine unlawful killing verdicts following deaths in police custody or following police contact, which means that an inquest jury have decided beyond reasonable doubt and using the criminal standard of proof that there has been either gross negligence, manslaughter or excessive force used.
I think the issue about prosecutions goes to the heart of the problems with the way in which the deaths are investigated from the outset and the robustness and effectiveness of that investigation, which means that the CPS make a decision on the evidence collected as part of that investigation not to prosecute, leaving the family with the inquest as the public forum and the first opportunity for that evidence to be tested. You then have a family legally represented, and indeed all the other parties represented, at inquests that can last several weeks, if not longer; an inquest jury deciding on the evidence that they believe this is an unlawful killing; and yet further decisions not to prosecute.
Q95 Chair: Marcia Rigg, can I, on behalf of the Committee, give the condolences of this Committee following the death of your brother? I think we are all familiar with this case and it must have been a tragic death for you and you must be still grieving for the loss of your brother.
Marcia Rigg: Absolutely. The family have not had much time to grieve for the last four years. We have basically been conducting the investigation ourselves because we have absolutely had no faith in the IPCC’s investigation at all from the very outset. At the last Committee, I gave evidence in February 2010 when Nick Hardwick also gave evidence. You will recall that he did say that the IPCC has a clear picture of what happened to Sean Rigg on the night of his death and that he had done what Parliament have asked of him. I am still surprised as to what he felt was a clear picture of what happened to Sean, because the evidence quite clearly showed quite the opposite of what the IPCC’s conclusion was in their report.
Q96 Chair: As you know, what the Committee is doing is looking at this organisation. It is considering its powers, and the evidence that you give today and the evidence of others will be very helpful to us in deciding what we recommend to the Government. As you have also seen, the IPCC is very much in the public’s mind at the moment following the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s decision. But you were very critical. I just take one of your quotes. You said, "This is absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable. I have no faith in the IPCC whatsoever. There needs to be an independent investigation into their Mickey Mouse investigation, which found no wrongdoing." That is a very serious indictment of a body that is set up to help people like you. Why did you come to that conclusion?
Marcia Rigg: I came to that conclusion, and I still stand by that conclusion, because the Independent Police Complaints Commission was very stagnant in the beginning of the investigation that we had in terms of interviewing the officers immediately. The family had to make a complaint to the IPCC in order to force the officers to be interviewed, the sealing-off of the arrest scene, looking at CCTV evidence and not corroborating them properly with officers’ statements that they had given under taped interview, and the evidence and what the officers were saying on interview and on oath were completely the opposite as to what happened. Therefore, I have absolutely no faith in the IPCC whatsoever. As you will see from the jury’s narrative verdict, they completely vindicated the family, and there was a strong contrast as to the IPCC’s findings and the true facts of the actual evidence that was heard.
Q97 Chair: Of course, the Committee has noted the very critical narrative verdict of the jury. Can this organisation, in your view, be reformed and, if it was given more powers in order to do the kinds of work that you would like it to do, do you think that the idea of an Independent Police Complaints Commission is a good one? You are just critical of its efficiency in the powers that it has used. Is that right?
Marcia Rigg: Yes, that is correct. Before the IPCC was effected, families had fought for an independent commission to take over the PCA and so families were very happy when the IPCC first came on board in April 2004, I believe. But, unfortunately, it does not seem to be fit for purpose or for what it was originally brought for, because evidently they are very biased in favour of the police. They seem to find no wrongdoing of the police, and this is the problem that families have.
Q98 Chair: Is this your main concern-that they are not independent, they are not fair?
Marcia Rigg: Yes. The main concern is that they do not appear to be independent. They are not fair. They are biased towards the police. There is a lack of communication between the families. Their first press release is usually incorrect. They do not interview the officers, seizing CCTV evidence and such like. This is the very reason why the IPCC is not independent.
Chair: Thank you, that is very helpful. We will explore some of those other comments with Members of the Committee.
Q99 Steve McCabe: Can we just follow that point up a little? You say you are pretty disillusioned with the IPCC and their inability to effectively follow things up, and I think you say that the advisory board is pretty poor even on agreed points that are supposed to be for further action. I just wonder, from your experience, what is the core of the problem? Is it the people or is it the structure of this organisation itself?
Marcia Rigg: I think perhaps it is the people because I believe that there is a structure that is put in place and the IPCC should be able to work effectively, but I think on some of the controversial deaths, in my experience and in speaking as to other families’ experiences, they tend to have ex-police officers from the very outset involved in the case. The CPS and the Police Federation are first involved as soon as a death has happened, before the IPCC is called in, and I think at that point there is a possibility that evidence can be contaminated and that there is nobody that is independent that is immediately called into the police station, for instance, in order to secure that evidence.
Q100 Steve McCabe: I do not want to put words into your mouth, but should I conclude from that that you are saying the basic structure of the organisation could be made to work but you need people who are much more independent and much more open-minded in the way they carry out their responsibilities?
Marcia Rigg: Yes, I believe so. I am an ordinary member of the public and my family conducted a very robust and effective investigation, which was laid out in the inquest, and found there to be wrongdoing by the officers. In fact their actions or inaction more than minimally caused the death of my brother. I am oblivious as to why investigators were not able to see the same evidence that an ordinary member of the public can and, in my opinion, the reason for that is perhaps that there were certain people at the beginning of the case who were biased, I believe. Therefore, the evidence stagnated. For instance CCTV, the IPCC was unaware of there being an outside camera that would have picked up an overview of what happened to my brother within the caged area and it was the family that insisted that that camera did exist. After that, the IPCC admitted that the camera did exist, but that it had not been working for a period of three months, and I found that to be quite unbelievable.
Q101 Mark Reckless: From next month Police and Crime Commissioners are going to be directly elected to hold the police to account. Do you think a way forward might be to put those elected commissioners in charge of the complaints process to ensure it is democratically and publicly accountable?
Marcia Rigg: Yes. I think that, outside members of the IPCC, there needs to be a kind of watchdog who is overlooking what the IPCC are doing. Evidently they are categorically not independent because their findings are completely the opposite as to the facts. I think that commissioners from the police committee would be a help and would be a start.
Deborah Coles: Can I just add something to the previous question-
Chair: Yes, please feel free to chip in.
Deborah Coles: It is about the Sean Rigg investigation. I think it is quite telling that following the inquest and following the jury verdict the IPCC themselves have now commissioned a review of their investigation into the death of Sean Rigg. That tells us something about the fact that the supposed independent investigation into this death is now to be reviewed because it was so clearly poor. It was poor from the outset, and I think what it highlighted to the Rigg family is that the people conducting that investigation did not have the skills or expertise to do an honest, fair investigation and there was not a proper testing of those police officers’ evidence. There was not proper seizure of the relevant CCTV. There was not an attempt from the outset to treat this death as a potential crime or misconduct issue, and I think that very much set the tone and it should not be for a bereaved family to have to, in a sense, be their own investigators.
It took that family’s legal representation at that inquest four years later to properly test the police version of events and I think it did expose the IPCC in terms of the absolutely poor nature of their investigation. That raises really important questions for your inquiry, because this is not an individual case, and INQUEST are working on about 20 other deaths in police custody or following police contact. We are seeing the same systemic problems and the most contentious issue for these families is the failure to interview police officers. Just like anybody else, if they were in a situation where somebody died following contact, they would be interviewed in the first instance, and that is an extremely important evidence base from which the investigation can be conducted.
Chair: Indeed. We will explore more of this in a moment.
Q102 Steve McCabe: I just wanted to ask about this review. Are they going to conduct a review themselves into their own investigation?
Deborah Coles: No, in terms of Sean’s death they are- We are slightly frustrated because they announced this on the back of the inquest nearly two-and-a-half months ago and they still have not given us the name of the person who is going to be conducting the review. It is going to be external to the IPCC and we welcome that.
Marcia Rigg: I would also like to add that there is also an internal investigation. A new set of commissioners in the IPCC is now conducting an investigation into their original investigation, particularly concerning two of the officers, Sergeant White and PC Harratt, who gave evidence both on oath and in taped interview. They perjured themselves because Mr White said that he went to the van and spent the morning telling the coroner and the jury details about what he saw in the van-that he saw my brother, that he spoke to him, that he looked him in the eyes-but the CCTV proved categorically that he never went anywhere near the van and so the IPCC is conducting an investigation into those two particular officers because the other officer colluded and backed up Mr White’s story that he went to the van.
Q103 Chair: Yes. Before we go to Mr Clappison, I understand, Ms Coles, you are also acting on behalf of the Mark Duggan family and there has been a development in that.
Deborah Coles: Yes.
Q104 Chair: What exactly has happened in respect of the IPCC inquiry into that?
Deborah Coles: The family and their lawyers attended the pre-inquest review in front of the coroner, Andrew Walker, this morning, and I am pleased to say that an inquest date has now been set for 28 January next year. But what is absolutely essential, and the request that was made in open court today, is that there is full and open disclosure as soon as possible of all the evidence that the IPCC have that can assist the coroner and other parties in the preparation of this very important inquest.
Q105 Chair: Is that unusual or is that a normal state of affairs, that the IPCC discloses all its information to the coroner?
Deborah Coles: The coroner depends upon the investigation conducted by the IPCC as part of his or her ability to conduct the inquest, but-and I think this is another problem-there are systemic problems with disclosure in most of the cases that INQUEST are dealing with. It was a problem at the Sean Rigg inquest with drip-drip disclosure or documents suddenly coming to light during the course of the inquest. What we absolutely hope in this case is, and the coroner has requested, that there is full disclosure to help him decide what witnesses need to be called and to help structure the scope of the inquest and there is a further pre-inquest review coming up on 30 November, which will be another opportunity for us to set the terms of the forthcoming inquest.
Q106 Mr Clappison: Perhaps I can move on to just a slightly different area and ask both witnesses if they have any suggestions as to practical steps that could be taken to reduce harm to people in police custody. Perhaps we will start with Deborah.
Deborah Coles: The first thing I would say is stop using police stations and police cells as a place of safety for people who have mental health problems. This has come up time and time again. There has been a catalogue of reports, of coroner’s recommendations, all pointing to the fact that police custody is a dangerous place for people with mental health problems and yet they are still being taken there. That would be a very good way of reducing the harm and also the deaths.
Q107 Mr Clappison: No doubt, Marcia, you would agree with that.
Marcia Rigg: Yes, I would have to reiterate that. A police cell is not a place of safety for a vulnerable person, and vulnerable people like my brother should not be treated as criminals. They are each somebody that is not well and there is a duty of care that should be given to them by the officers, and at the moment it doesn’t appear that they are getting that.
Q108 Chair: The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has told us that there was going to a £4 million refit of all police vans to ensure that they had CCTV. Do you think that that would go far enough to meet the issues that you have raised about the way in which Sean was treated inside the van?
Marcia Rigg: Yes, absolutely. My sister and I had a meeting with the Commissioner in June of this year regarding having cameras in the back of police vehicles, and he promised that he would do that and he has done so. In fact, myself and my sister had a meeting with Scotland Yard and visited the piloting of the cameras in the back of police vans. There are going to be four cameras in the vans, which show two inside and two at the back of the van and the front of the van. I think it is absolutely imperative that these cameras are there in order to safeguard both the police and the prisoner for any wrongdoing. My concern will be that it is imperative that these cameras are working at all times and I believe that they should be overlooked by a completely independent body of the police in order for there to be no tampering with evidence.
Q109 Mr Winnick: Can I first of all ask, Ms Rigg, that if your brother had been of a different colour, white-and I will ask Ms Coles about Mark Duggan-do you consider there would have been a different reaction on the part of the police?
Marcia Rigg: There may have been, but I am also aware of the fact that the police not only-for want of a better word, but it is a word that I will use-kill black people; they also kill white people. I think it is a class issue and that the matter should be looked at much more generally. However, for instance in the Mark Duggan case, when there is a shooting, when Mr Sanders was apprehended by the police he had a gun in his hand for six hours. I believe that if that was a black person he would not have lasted six seconds before he was shot. I do believe that there is concern about the colour. Nonetheless, I do think there is also a wider issue and that it is a class issue, not just a race issue.
Deborah Coles: It is a very important question because our casework monitoring in terms of the numbers of people who die have shown an absolute disproportionality when we look at the most contentious deaths in police custody and following police contact. What I mean by that is that people from black and minority ethnic communities are over-represented in those deaths that follow the use of force, be it restraint techniques or fatal shootings. I think we have to ask some quite important questions about the role that racism plays and it is something that obviously is outside the scope of inquests, but, following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, there was a recognition about institutionalised racism.
I certainly think that there are certain attitudes and assumptions that are made about certain groups of people, and another group here that are over-represented are people with mental health problems. I do think it is a very important issue that we need to address and, as part of that, we have to look at issues around when these deaths happen. What is the investigation exploring? Of course, it is exploring wrongdoing-criminal wrongdoing, disciplinary wrongdoing-but it is also exploring issues about treating people as human beings and we are talking very often about very vulnerable people. I think it is an important issue that the Committee wants to consider.
Q110 Mr Winnick: On the question of independence of the IPCC, is it your view that there are too many investigators who are former police officers?
Marcia Rigg: Absolutely.
Q111 Mr Winnick: The figure that I have is that 33% of investigators for the Commission are former police officers and, moreover, eight out of nine Commission senior investigators and 38% of deputy senior investigators were or are police officers. Do you consider that inappropriate?
Marcia Rigg: Absolutely. There is no public confidence whatsoever in an Independent Police Complaints Commission that employs ex-police officers. Evidently, in my brother’s case and in other cases, this has proved to be unsatisfactory because there appears to be corruption and cover up of the evidence and these are from ex-police officers.
Q112 Mr Winnick: What do you say, Ms Coles, to the view that the Commission relies on people who are professionally trained to investigate and to exclude former police officers-this is the argument that is advanced, as you are obviously very familiar with-would be unfair and it would not help the process of investigation?
Deborah Coles: I am not of the view that there should be no police officers involved in the IPCC at all, but I think there are two issues here. One is the fact that eight out of nine of the senior investigators are ex-police officers.
Mr Winnick: The figure I have just pointed to.
Deborah Coles: The figure that you have given. I think that is very important because in a sense we have to remember that they direct the investigation and, whether or not there is perceived cover up or real cover up or too-close relationships with the police, the perception is a very damaging one, particularly when you are talking about families whose relative has died. I also think that when the IPCC were first set up there was much more of an understanding about needing perhaps the skills and expertise of police officers, but they have been going a long time now and there should be now training of people to do investigations. We need to have more independent investigators, people with the skills and expertise to conduct investigations. What I feel, from working with lawyers who are working with families, it is very often the family lawyers who are telling the IPCC investigators what they should be doing. They are directing the investigation, and that is an absurd state of affairs and it should not be happening.
Q113 Mr Winnick: Ms Rigg, presumably all that is what you would say yourself, the view that has just been expressed?
Marcia Rigg: Absolutely. I do agree that in some circumstances you may need the advice of a police officer because of his experience.
Mr Winnick: A former police officer?
Marcia Rigg: Former police officers. I am not a police officer. I have worked in law, but I am not an officer. But I was able to conduct, along with my family, a proper, effective investigation into my brother’s death and I think that an ordinary layperson can be trained within the IPCC. I believe that some of the commissioners or investigators may go through some kind of training process within the IPCC, and I don’t see why an ordinary member of the public can’t do that.
Mr Winnick: They can’t be trained accordingly?
Marcia Rigg: Absolutely. They can be trained accordingly.
Q114 Chair: Are you telling the Committee that you would prefer that there should no former police officers in the IPCC, or it depends on their role?
Marcia Rigg: I think there needs to be public confidence. There needs to be a drastic drop in the employment of ex-police officers within the IPCC.
Q115 Chair: But you are saying it is perfectly possible for someone who is not a police officer, as you have shown with your family over the last four years, to go and find CCTV evidence and to investigate a case?
Marcia Rigg: Yes. I think that a lot of it based on common sense. Eleven ordinary members of the public came to the same conclusion that I did and that was the evidence. Also the IPCC had that evidence, but they came up with a different conclusion.
Q116 Chair: Ms Coles, on the Jimmy Mubenga case, I think your organisation represented Jimmy Mubenga. The Committee, of course, has looked at this case. We have produced a report. Do you think that the powers of the IPCC should be extended to the private sector-those like G4S who work within the system, who at the moment are not subject to investigation?
Deborah Coles: Absolutely. I was pleased to see that in Anne Owers’ evidence she also recognised that there is a serious lack of accountability and I think particularly when we are seeing the very depressing outsourcing of more and more functions of the police to private companies it is absolutely vital as a matter of urgency.
Q117 Chair: Ms Rigg, it must have been a terrible four years for you to get to the stage where you are today; first of all to have had to suffer the death of your brother, but then to go through all this four years later to get some kind of justice. For your family, what will represent closure in respect of this issue?
Marcia Rigg: Yes. The last four years have been very traumatic for myself and my family, not being able to grieve but just wanting to find out the truth of what happened to Sean, and we found that we had to depend on ourselves in order to do that. I do believe that the officers acted inappropriately and did nothing to help my brother. The only form of contentment that I will have, and I think I speak on behalf of my family, is that there needs to be criminal charges of those officers and there needs to be proper accountability as if they were an ordinary member of the public.
Q118 Chair: Do you feel that the way in which the IPCC has operated has delayed that closure? It has certainly not enhanced it, has it?
Marcia Rigg: No, it has certainly not enhanced it at all. In fact it has done quite the opposite, and we as a family had to fight tooth and nail in order to get disclosure from the IPCC and had to have a number of pre-inquest reviews. We were able to get an order from the coroner to enter the IPCC’s offices to look at what they called unused material. They said that they had unused material there because they found that the evidence was not relevant at the time. In fact that is where we found the best evidence in my brother’s case.
Q119 Chair: Yes. You mentioned your meeting with the Commissioner and the fact that you have gone yourself to look at the new CCTVs in respect of the police vans.
Marcia Rigg: Yes.
Q120 Chair: Is there a good relationship with the police now in order to try to ascertain the truth?
Marcia Rigg: With the public or with myself?
Chair: No, yourself and the police in trying to get to the truth of what has happened.
Marcia Rigg: Yes, they have been quite accommodating, particularly since the verdict. Prior to that they were not and so I think that the family has forced the Metropolitan Police to apologise to the family, and I think that the Metropolitan Police are perhaps making it appear that they are doing what can, and they are at the moment. They are being very accommodating and we shall see what happens. What I want to know is that cameras at the back of police vans must work at all times. That is what the issue is here.
Q121 Chair: Thank you. Ms Coles, I know that you have other evidence that you can give the Committee. If you, as a result of this hearing today, feel that you could write to us with additional information, please do not hesitate to do so. We on this Committee are looking at practical suggestions to improve the effectiveness of the IPCC. Thank you very much for coming today.
Marcia Rigg: Thank you for listening.
Deborah Coles: Thank you.
Chair: We are most grateful, thank you. Could we have our next witness, please?
Examination of Witness
Witness: Matilda MacAttram, Director, Black Mental Health UK, gave evidence.
Q122 Chair: Thank you very much for coming today to give evidence to this Committee. I won’t repeat my introduction. You know what this inquiry is about, and you have heard the last witnesses.
In your evidence you describe people with mental health problems being, and I quote from you, "strip-searched, left naked in a cell, left cold, hungry and thirsty, not given the medication they needed, been restrained by more than one officer" and being "insulted and patronised". That is a very serious indictment of the way in which people are being kept in custody. What evidence do you have to support that most extraordinary of statements?
Matilda MacAttram: Well, there is a body of evidence that goes back quite a few years when it comes to the treatment of mental-health service users and the police, and I think the most striking evidence would be the fact that the IPCC’s own data show that 50% of people who die in police custody are mental-health service users, so the inhumane treatment you have described is part of the experience, but the starkest outcome and the reason Black Mental Health UK have made the submission is because of the deaths in custody. As we have heard already, the Sean Rigg case has highlighted a lot of issues, but sadly his experience typifies the experience of the stakeholder group that Black Mental Health UK seeks to serve and represent.
Q123 Chair: I was interested to see the comments of the Metropolitan Police’s Area Commander for South-East London, Neil Basu, who talked about the police investing in dealing with mental health issues. What way do you think the police can do this, because it must be very difficult for officers, given the situation, to make assessments of this kind, which are medical assessments, in a situation of possible emergency, or possibly a crisis situation? How would you think that they could make a better assessment?
Matilda MacAttram: The issue of the treatment of mental-health service users by the police was raised with Bernard Hogan-Howe in the forum of the London School of Economics, and his response was that police officers are crime fighters, not social workers. That makes it clear that they are not trained, and we know at the moment they are not trained to deal with anyone who is psychotic, anyone who is in urgent need of mental health care. So it is not something on their radar. Even though there are standard operating procedures to deal with this group, it is not something that they reference or are very au fait with. It is a good question, how should the police deal with this group better? Black Mental Health UK’s position is that the police are not the right people, regardless of how florid somebody might be, to deal with this group. We are very concerned about issues we have raised in our submission, about restraint and the way it leads to death, overuse of force and the use of Tasers.
I don’t know if you are aware of the case of somebody called Kingsley Burrell-Brown. Sadly, he died after he was restrained by a team of at least five officers; we don’t know how long for, but his family have informed Black Mental Health UK that there were Taser marks all over his body. There is another person who is also referenced in this submission. His surname is Omari, and he was shot five times by the police. He was known to be a service user, but he was also tasered in the groin, so we know that overuse of force when it comes to somebody that they know uses mental-health services is the norm.
Our position is that the police are not the best and we need to have an alternative. If we consider ourselves to be living in a civilised society, we shouldn’t be treating the most vulnerable in this way. But the fact that the police have such key engagement with this group means that Black Mental Health UK would like to see more scrutiny, because when somebody dies when detained under the Mental Health Act, even if it is police-related, it is not always subject to independent scrutiny.
Chair: Yes. Nicola Blackwood, I know, will want to pursue this.
Q124 Nicola Blackwood: Thank you, Chairman. Could you explain what kind of training you think would be realistic and appropriate for police officers-bearing in mind they do not have medical training-so that they can assess when someone is psychotic in that kind of environment? You are asking for a very quick assessment, and for them to be able to distinguish between someone behaving criminally and someone behaving psychotically.
Matilda MacAttram: At the moment, if somebody is considered to be mentally unwell and is dangerous to themselves or others and no agency is willing to provide whatever is needed, then the police will intervene, and police custody is considered to be a place of safety. We don’t see it as a place of safety. Right now, there are procedures in place, and our concern is-it came out in the Sean Rigg inquest-that the procedures are already in place when it comes to dealing with this vulnerable group as far as places of safety goes, as far as restraint goes and as far as treatment goes, but what we are seeing in policy is completely different from what we are seeing in practice. So I don’t know if there needs to be more scrutiny or just a review of how this group are treated.
Q125 Nicola Blackwood: So is there training in terms of when an officer first comes in? Are they trained in how to identify someone and does that happen in every force area? Are there variations across the country? Has there been some kind of assessment made?
Matilda MacAttram: My understanding is that they are not trained in assessing somebody to find out whether they are-
Nicola Blackwood: Sorry, is that "are not" or "are"?
Matilda MacAttram: My understanding is they are not.
Q126 Nicola Blackwood: Okay. What kind of training do you think would be appropriate and how could the situation be improved?
Matilda MacAttram: How could the situation be improved? There needs to be more focus on this area, because it is huge. It is a routine part of the "bobby on the beat" work load every day. How can it be improved? I think by closer scrutiny; I think if there was more scrutiny on certain practices.
One of the things Black Mental Health UK have a huge concern with is the presence of police on psychiatric wards. Now, if somebody is in a health-based setting because they are considered to be a danger to themselves or others, and the thinking is, and the understanding we hope should be, that it is therapeutic and encourages recovery, and yet we know for a fact on forensic wards, officers are going in in riot gear, they are going in with Tasers, they are going in with Alsatians and they are going in to restrain people. These are practices that are hugely concerning to us, and there is no transparency at all. It is completely opaque.
Q127 Nicola Blackwood: Is that common practice, or is that happening in some places and not in others?
Matilda MacAttram: It is happening. I think if it happens even once-
Nicola Blackwood: Yes, but I am just trying to get a sense of the scale of the problem. I am just trying to understand.
Matilda MacAttram: I think this is an area that needs to be scrutinised, because the information that we have has come from information like the Mental Health Act Commission report. It is an annual report that has now been replaced by what the Care Quality Commission-that is the current watchdog-produces. We have a lot of information that comes to us, but it tends to be anecdotal. We have what I think many would consider to be horror stories, and it is hard to believe them, but when you see them published in a watchdog’s report, then you know it to be the case.
One issue that has just come to Black Mental Health UK’s attention that I think that this Home Affairs Committee should know about is an incident that happened after the Rigg verdict, where the trust that was responsible for his care had riot police called in only this month. It is a huge concern; it is completely opaque and there needs to be scrutiny here. There needs to be accountability here.
Q128 Nicola Blackwood: Can I ask if there are concerns about sharing of information between the NHS, between GPs, between those caring for those with mental health concerns in the health sector, and those who may well be called out within police teams so that they are already aware of health concerns with an individual? We are experiencing this in other areas, sort of data-sharing, and a culture of not sharing information, even though it would be helpful, for fear of data protection issues. I just wonder if that is an issue that comes up in this area as well.
Matilda MacAttram: My understanding is that there is a relationship between health providers and the police, so there are certain service users who are known to the services. Sean Rigg was known to the services; he was a revolving-door patient. The stakeholder group that we represent sadly are revolving-door patients, so I think sometimes there is the knowledge of the service user by the police, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they are treated in a way that they should not be, I think, especially a vulnerable person who is unwell. I hope that answers your question.
Q129 Mr Clappison: I have two questions. I am just intrigued, first of all, by the answer that you gave to my colleague about police going into mental health wards. What is the reason for police going there in the first place? What is the background to that? How do they come to be there?
Matilda MacAttram: How do they come to be there? This is the understanding that Black Mental Health UK has, and the only reason that this organisation exists is in response to the disproportionality of black people at the secure parts of the mental health services. We have just happened across this and we are just as concerned as the family members who contact us. They are called in when the situation has escalated to a point where it is of concern.
I don’t know if the Committee are aware of a case of a young post-graduate student called Olaseni Lewis. He was detained under the Mental Health Act. I think he wasn’t in the system for more than 24 hours when the police were called in because there was a situation on the ward. Now, what-
Mr Clappison: They were called in by the hospital authorities or the clinicians?
Matilda MacAttram: That is how it happens consistently, and it is of grave concern. It is of serious concern to Black Mental Health UK, because if somebody is supposed to be in a place of safety where the practitioners are supposed to be trained to be able to support these people and de-escalate a problem, it is something that needs to be addressed, and I think I would welcome it being on the Select Committee’s radar.
Q130 Mr Clappison: The other sort of broader question I had is what practical steps you would like to see taken to get from being where we are now to where you would like to see us in the future.
Matilda MacAttram: Practical steps?
Mr Clappison: Yes. I am thinking of training or what would the alternatives be to cells as a place of safety.
Matilda MacAttram: Even if a cell is termed a place of safety, it is not a place of safety. Invariably they do not have windows and they are like dungeons. They are not therapeutic, they are places of trauma, and for people from the UK’s African-Caribbean community, because of the disproportionality when it comes to deaths in custody, they are seen as places of punishment and also they-
Mr Clappison: I completely understand that, but I am asking what you would see as an alternative.
Matilda MacAttram: The alternative has to be health-based places of safety, and more importantly than that-this is where the resources have to shift from compulsion to therapy-community-based places of safety. They have to be places where people can be kept when they are florid or having an episode where they can be de-escalated in a situation that doesn’t criminalise them, so community-based places of safety and health-based places of safety, not custody-based places of safety.
Q131 Nicola Blackwood: Do you know how many police force areas in the UK have what you would consider acceptable places of safety and how many places are using police cells as places of safety?
Matilda MacAttram: My understanding is they are being phased out, and they are being phased out quite rapidly, so there is going to come a time very quickly-because we know with budget cuts that some police stations are going to be shut down, and so the custody suites are going to go with them; so we know that they are being phased out. I couldn’t give you the data, but I could find out and then get that to you.
Nicola Blackwood: That would be very helpful; thank you.
Q132 Mark Reckless: You described a number of specific police practices, such as the use of prone restraint and also the use of Tasers, and I just wonder, is there any way that you could see the Commission guarding against any inappropriate use of those mechanisms?
Matilda MacAttram: Yes. Prone restraint is key, as Deborah has alluded to already. A disproportionate number of people from the UK’s African-Caribbean community sadly die after the use of prone restraint. Mental-health service users, their medication means they have a raft of other physical ailments that means if this group are restrained, they are more likely to die. I think if a service user is known to the police, there has to be an emphasis on de-escalation. There really has to be an emphasis on an alternative use of cuffing and restraining people. There are many people on the wards who, as well as maybe being unwell, have cuts on their wrists, so all these people are unwell, who have bruising and cuts, and these just exacerbate their illness.
So I think a focus on this, if this was flagged up by the Committee as an issue, like restraint with mental-health service users is a huge concern, and we know because of Sean Rigg and many other cases that it leads to tragic consequences that are very expensive to the state and are very, very expensive to the family and the community. That would shine a light on it, and, I think, alternatives. People who are unwell have no place being restrained.
Mark Reckless: Ever?
Matilda MacAttram: I have answered the question.
Q133 Mark Reckless: I mean, are there circumstances in which you would understand and accept the police restraining people even though they fit into the mental health category you describe?
Matilda MacAttram: Black Mental Health UK would say it doesn’t really matter what- I think the position should be this: would it be suitable for anyone in this room in the same position, and if it would be acceptable for anyone in this room to be treated in that way when florid, then it should be acceptable for the vulnerable and voiceless groups. If it is not acceptable for you or your family, it is not acceptable for anyone. It violates human rights. It is dehumanising and it exacerbates trauma, so Black Mental Health UK’s position is, not in any situation. These people are vulnerable. "Mental-health service users are more likely to be a danger to themselves or others." People often revert to stereotypes that demonise a vulnerable group and legitimise behaviour that shouldn’t be acceptable.
Q134 Steve McCabe: Can I just check, do you have a background in mental health care yourself?
Matilda MacAttram: My background is in journalism.
Q135 Steve McCabe: I just wondered. Thank you. I want to just go back to the psychiatric hospital where the police in riot gear are being called in. If we had the consultants or the nurses before us today and I asked them why that was happening, what would be their explanation? Would they say they had lost control or they were scared for their own safety? What explanation is offered for this?
Matilda MacAttram: Well, if they have lost control-I can’t really speak for the practitioners and the service providers, because I cannot understand in what situation you would need law enforcement agents-then it is an issue of training, because the people who are admitted to medium and secure psychiatric settings are people who there is an understanding need a certain type of care that might be quite intensive, so the staffing at all levels should be able to be skilled enough to deal with that.
Steve McCabe: Yes, I understand that. I was just curious to know what explanation you would offer.
Matilda MacAttram: Yes, I suppose loss of control, but law enforcement agencies are not the answer.
Q136 Steve McCabe: Can I just ask finally about the IPCC itself? If you were recommending how it should change the way it operates, what would you suggest it should do?
Matilda MacAttram: Well, concerns around complaints is one thing, because when people who have used the services would like to raise a complaint, maybe about being tasered-there is one reference to a service user who was handcuffed and in a cage who was tasered, and because of the time limits in which somebody needs to make a complaint, the fact is that he was firstly detained, and so couldn’t, and then secondly was not in a position to until he received support meant that he could not. So the complaints procedure when it comes to this group is inaccessible.
Another recommendation would be that the investigation of deaths needs to have at least the same scrutiny in health care settings as it does in prisons and police. I know there are questions over that, but the fact that 62% of people who lose their lives in the care of the state are people who have been detained under the Act means there needs to be more scrutiny in this area, and there just is not at the moment.
Steve McCabe: Okay, thank you.
Q137 Nicola Blackwood: I accept a lot of your argument, and I understand your concerns about inappropriate restraint. I am just slightly concerned about your position about how restraint is never appropriate. If you have an individual who has gone off their meds for whatever reason-that does happen-and is psychotic and dangerous, perhaps has a weapon and is in the community or is perhaps presenting for the first time as psychotic and so has not come to the attention of the mental health community before, are you saying that it would never be appropriate to restrain that individual?
Matilda MacAttram: Well, I think somebody armed-
Nicola Blackwood: Because there are accepted safe forms of restraint that do not harm the individual, and it is as much for that person’s protection so they do not injure someone at a psychotic moment and then have to live with that. Surely-I am just wondering. I think I misunderstood.
Matilda MacAttram: No, I think it is a very good point, and I think if somebody is armed with a weapon, then it becomes an issue of their safety and the public safety. If somebody, regardless of their mental state, has a weapon, then it is an area of criminality. Black Mental Health UK’s position is vulnerable people are routinely being restrained; it is almost like part of the experience.
Nicola Blackwood: When they are not presenting a risk, are you saying?
Matilda MacAttram: Well, that is just the culture of the way this group are treated, and our position is, given what we know about the impact of that, the trauma that restraint has, there has to be another way of dealing with this vulnerable group. Right now, people might not see it, but our position has to be, if we are going to advocate for this voiceless group, that restraint is not appropriate. If somebody is armed, that is completely different; they need to be disarmed. But if somebody is psychotic, then our position would be invest more time in de-escalation, because we do know that these sorts of treatment are leading long-term to loss of life.
Nicola Blackwood: Okay. That is clearer. Thank you, I appreciate that.
Q138 Chair: At Sean Rigg’s inquest, a number of professionals came forward to give evidence and they said that the reforms had taken place and things were better, and if it happened again it perhaps would not have been in the same circumstances, but there have been other cases. You mentioned Kingsley Burrell-Brown, Colin Holt, Olaseni Lewis and others. Do you think that the reforms have made a difference?
Matilda MacAttram: If the reforms had made a difference when Sean Rigg had died, Olaseni Lewis would not have died. We know that, because it is the same health provider, and if the commitments that reforms had been put in place since Sean Rigg’s inquest were a reality, then I don’t think riot police would have been called to South London and Maudsley NHS Trust this month, and this is what has been raised with us. So these providers are very large, they are very powerful and their PR machine is very effective, and what Black Mental Health UK are very keen to do is to see really robust scrutiny on what is being said so that it becomes a reality for the people who use the services.
Q139 Chair: One final question, and it is a yes or no answer; if you do not know the case, obviously do say that you do not. In Parliament last week there was a debate on the case of Azelle Rodney. Do you have an opinion on whether intercept evidence should be used in coroners’ courts in respect of deaths in police custody?
Matilda MacAttram: Yes.
Chair: Probably the briefest answer we have had today. We are very grateful. Thank you very much, and again, if there is other information, the inquiry will be going on for a number of weeks, please write to us. The Clerks will take anything you have in writing, and we will add it to our evidence. Thank you very much indeed.
Matilda MacAttram: Thank you.