The claim

“Forty-eight hours to even get any contact, seemingly, from the IPCC – had the contact been made with family sooner, it may not have meant that the family would want to go and protest in the first place.”
Claudia Webbe, 8 August 2011

The background

Mark Duggan was shot by Met police marksmen during an attempted arrest near Tottenham Hale tube station in north London on Thursday.

On Saturday night, what had begun as a peaceful protest outside Tottenham, with around 300 people demanding answers over Mr Duggan’s death, turned violent.

By Monday disorder had broken out across London and more than 200 people had been arrested.

Mr Duggan’s family have condemned the violence and say it is wrong to blame the unrest on the 29-year-old’s death.

But several commentators including Lee Jasper, former Senior Policy Advisor on Equalities to the Mayor of London, have blamed police for creating ill-will by failing to make contact with the dead man’s family more quickly.

Claudia Webbe, chairman of the Met’s Operation Trident Independent Advisory Group, said the demonstration that preceded the initial outbreak of violence on Saturday might not have taken place if the Independent Police Complaints Commission had met the family sooner.

The analysis

The police watchdog launched an investigation into Thursday’s shooting within hours, as is usual when a member of the public is shot dead by police.

A Met source initially told FactCheck the IPCC took over responsibility for dealing with the dead man’s family from the moment they opened their probe, suggesting any blame for a lack of communication with the Duggan family rested with the police watchdog.

But the IPCC released a statement defending their movements, saying they first made telephone contact with members of the family on Friday and met relatives on Saturday.

Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “I am aware of various media reports suggesting that we have not had adequate contact with Mr Duggan’s family since his death.

“Following my meeting with the family yesterday (Sunday) I am very clear that their concerns were not about lack of contact or support from the IPCC. Their concerns were about lack of contact from the police in delivering news of his death to Mark’s parents.

“It is never the responsibility of the IPCC to deliver a message regarding someone’s death and I have told Mr Duggan’s family that I would be addressing this issue with the Met and that, if necessary, this would become part of our investigation.”

FactCheck double-checked with the Met and were told that officers had made contact with relatives in the hours following the shooting, but in the handover of responsibility from the force to the police watchdog, the job of telling his parents about the death of their son had been overlooked.

A Met Police spokesman said: “We are very sorry for the distress that has been caused to the family of Mark Duggan, especially because of the way in which his parents became aware of his death. It is always challenging when the police service has to ensure that an investigation is totally independent of them in order to sustain public confidence, and on occasion errors then occur in the hand over.

“Although immediate members of his family were told of Mr Duggan’s death, we accept that we did not inform his parents and it is clear that there are lessons that can be learned both by the MPS and the IPCC in this case.”

She added: “On the night of Mr Duggan’s death the MPS sent specially trained Family Liaison Officers to the scene to meet with two members of Mr Duggan’s family. These FLOs agreed to the family members’ request that they tell Mr Duggan’s parents the news of his death themselves.

“The family liaison was then handed over to the IPCC Family Liaison Managers, who were fully briefed on what action had taken place.

“As is usual, from this point the MPS had no further on-going family liaison role and so were unaware of the concerns of Mr Duggan’s parents that they had not been formally notified by police of his death. Having become aware of these concerns we are contacting Mr Duggan’s parents via their lawyers and offering to meet with them.”

The verdict

Whether Mr Duggan’s death was really the catalyst for three days of rioting across London is still far from clear.

And it’s too early to say how the job of telling his parents about his death could have fallen between the cracks in the aftermath of the shooting.

It may be that lack of clear guidelines contributed to the conclusion, as there is little firm guidance in the otherwise lengthy codes of practice issued to firearms officers on how to engage with the families of people killed by the police.

Guidelines published by the Association of Chief Police Officers say: “In any incident where persons have been killed or injured as a result of police action, consideration should be given to the use of family liaison officers.”

And Home Office guidance is similarly weakly worded: “There should be early consideration of the involvement of family liaison officers, and of the need to keep relevant individuals and organisations informed.”

The IPCC says the way Mr Duggan’s family were treated will fall within the remit of their ongoing investigation.

As the Met said in their statement, “it is clear that there are lessons that can be learned”.

By Patrick Worrall