12 Jun 2012

Custody death inquest told that victim was ‘fit and healthy’

The sister of a man with mental health problems who died in police custody tells an inquest that her brother had been physically very fit and healthy at the time of his death.

Marcia Rigg-Samuel said her brother Sean Rigg had a 20-year history of paranoid schizophrenia and had repeatedly been detained by police under the Mental Health Act.

The 40-year-old, who was described as boisterous, funny and a talented musician, died after being arrested for a public order offence and taken to a police station in Brixton, south London, in August 2008.

His sister told a jury at Southwark Coroner’s Court of the moment she was told he had died.

“I heard my brother had died in the early hours of August 22.

“The police came to our house and told us he had been arrested and taken to Brixton police station and had suddenly collapsed and died.

“They said they had no more information. We never heard from them again.”

The inquest heard Mr Rigg had a history of stopping taking the medication used to treat his schizophrenia.

“If he took his medication he was well but if he didn’t take it sometimes he would behave strangely,” his sister said.

Professor Tom Fahy, Mr Rigg’s mental health consultant at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, described how the condition affected his life.

He said: “When he became unwell he would often become paranoid and he would sometimes become quite grandiose in his beliefs.

“He believed he had a lot of money, That he was famous or that the mental health services were conspiring against him.

“He would sometimes respond to these beliefs in a provocative fashion and on occasions became violent.”

Professor Fahy said that at the time of his death, Mr Rigg had not been taking his medication for two months. His mental health had deteriorated significantly towards the end of that period, the inquest heard.

Professor Fahy – who was on holiday during the period leading up to Mr Rigg’s death – told the jury that with hindsight, the mental health team caring for him could have intervened sooner.

He was also asked why Mr Rigg’s sister, Marcia, wasn’t contacted.

The family’s barrister, Leslie Thomas, said: “At times when Sean was not being compliant with his medicine, his family had a calming effect on him, didn’t they? He listened to his family. He listened to his big sister…

“Did anyone on your team think let’s pick up the phone and ring the family?”

Professor Fahy responded: “The family weren’t contacted. They should have been contacted.”

Asked by Mr Thomas whether that was “blindingly obvious”, Professor Fahy agreed that it was.

Professor Fahy told the inquest that changes have since been introduced in the way mental health patients are monitored, with more frequent checks on those considered to be a high risk to themselves and the public.

The inquest, which is expected to last for at least six weeks, is due to hear from more than 70 witnesses, including the Metropolitan Police officers who arrested Mr Rigg.