DEATHS in police custody are the ‘highest for five years’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s annual report on deaths during or following police contact states. There were 17 deaths in or following police custody in 2014-15, the highest number for five years, the IPCC says.
The figure of 17 is an increase from 11 last year, which was the lowest number since recording began in 2004-5. That figure was at its highest at 36 in 2004-5. At the same time as these figures have been produced, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced a review into deaths while in the custody of the police.
Marcia Rigg-Samuel, whose brother Sean Rigg died in police custody, has commented that the review has been ‘a long time coming’. She added: ‘What I want, and I speak for myself and on behalf of other families, is that this review is effective and brings real change on the issue of deaths in custody, and how families feel and how we are treated, and that there’s proper accountability.’
Marcia Rigg-Samuel also said families should be ‘at the core of the review’, adding: ‘What’s extraordinary is the systematic failures, and the answers that we cannot get from the state officials. It’s devastating for any family.’ Sean Rigg, who had suffered from schizophrenia for 20 years, was arrested in August 2008 and taken to Brixton police station in south London.
He had been arrested on suspicion of committing public order offences and attacking a police officer in neighbouring Balham. Hours later, the ‘boisterous, talented’ 40-year-old musician was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he was declared dead. According to Marcia Rigg-Samuel, police told the family he had ‘suddenly collapsed and died’, but nothing more.
In 2013, a review found that the Independent Police Complaints Commission had committed a series of blunders in its investigation of the death of Sean Rigg, while detained at Brixton police station. Deborah Coles, of the charity Inquest, which provides advice to people bereaved by a death in custody, said it was ‘too early to tell’ if the May review announcement was more of a public relations exercise, or a real attempt to bring about effective systemic change. She added: ‘It must also address why so many previous recommendations from reviews, inquiries and inquests have not been acted upon.’
Coles has touched on a very important point – why have all inquiries and their findings been ignored to the point where there is no confidence that a new inquiry will be any different. The fact is that the police are a vital part of the capitalist state. This state is made up of bodies of armed men whose duty it is to see that the established order is maintained and defended against all comers at any cost.
Last Wednesday, the de Menezes family was commemorating the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Jean Charles de Menezes, an entirely innocent man, on the tube at Stockwell by armed police killers who had been given the order to attack him. The triggerman has not been found guilty of any criminal offence, and the officer who was in charge of the operation, Cressida Dick, was afterwards promoted to become Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner in charge of counter-terrorism, and and has now moved to a top secret post in the Foreign Office.
Today, the state is poised to impose new anti-union laws and to have blanket powers to spy and apprehend people including youth who come under its suspicion, and to take special measures against them. The notion that one section of the state investigating another is going to produce the truth about any of its operations or criminal actions is an illusion.
The ruling class are interested in strengthening their state apparatus and not alienating sections of it with serious inquiries and even punishment for crimes committed in the course of duty. There is only one way to prevent deaths in police custody, or state cover-ups of ruling class criminal activities such as child abuse, and that is through carrying out a socialist revolution to smash the state apparatus and open up all of its most secret and well-hidden files for public inspection.