How a mental health crisis ended with a death in police custody

Sean Riggsource: VICE News
published: 26 August 2021

Having just turned 40 in 2008, Sean Rigg had proven himself to be a man of many talents. The musician and dancer had just released his debut album, Be Brother B Good in 2007 and had set up his own record label, Dan Man Records, with friends – all alongside living with mental health issues, including a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 20.

By August 2008, Rigg was living in a hostel for people with a recorded mental health history in Brixton, south London. Though in a hostel, he was not under any sections and had been managing his mental health well until he experienced a sharp decline.

Five 999 calls were made by hostel staff over a three-hour period, requesting emergency police assistance. It wasn’t until he left the hostel, half-naked, that the police responded to calls from members of the public who said it was obvious that the musician was unwell.

Four officers chased Rigg down, handcuffed and restrained him in a face-down position while, according to the inquest jury, leaning on him for eight minutes. He was then arrested for assaulting a police officer, public disorder and the theft of a passport – which later emerged to be his own cancelled passport, with a cut in the corner.

Placed in a cramped, V-shaped position in the footwell of the van’s cage, Rigg was taken to Brixton police station. By the time he was taken out, he had become “extremely unwell and not fully conscious”, according to the coroner’s report. This was followed by a further delay of ten minutes where he was left handcuffed, with an arresting officer captured on the station’s CCTV asserting that he was “faking it”.

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