A police officer wasted valuable minutes trying to cover-up the maltreatment of a mentally unwell man who was dying on the floor of the police station instead of calling for an ambulance, an inquest has been told.
PC Andrew Birks, the most senior of four officers who arrested Sean Rigg in August 2008, was accused of radioing updates to the police operator to cover his tracks while Mr Rigg lay unconscious and in urgent need to medical attention.
PC Birks was also accused of mistreating Mr Rigg in the police van on the way to the station and lying about how much he knew about the detainee’s mental health problems and state of consciousness, all of which he denied.
The jury at Southwark Coroner’ Court were shown CCTV footage of PC Birks making two radio calls in the caged area of Brixton police station where Mr Rigg was lying slumped on the floor. They were then shown written evidence of two CAD (police log) updates relating to police contact with Mr Rigg much earlier. These calls were attributed to PC Birks ID number at the same time as he is seen making the two calls.
The officer insisted that he would not have radioed in information that was not true, and he was totally focused on Mr Rigg’s welfare at the time.
In a tense exchange between PC Birks and Leslie Thomas QC, representing the Rigg family, the officer was accused of lying to the court about his conduct that night.
Mr Thomas said: “You and your colleagues put Mr Rigg into the police van and for that journey from the estate to Brixton police station in the rear yard, you and your colleagues did something to him. You put him in a prone position in the van that was deleterious to his health or did something else that you’re not coming clean about, do you accept this?
“Definitely not,” he replied.
‘In the caged area you knew he was in a state of collapse… it was apparent to you and your officers that he was unable to assist himself and needed urgent medical attention at 8.03pm, that’s right isn’t it?
“No, that’s not what I understood at the time… I was not aware of any mental health issues at the time,” said PC Birks.
“You updated the CAD which was part of the cover-up because you knew you had a man who was dying before your eyes in the cage and you were trying to retrospectively put the CAD right, do you accept that?” asked Mr Thomas.
“Categorically no, there was no cover-up at all.”
“At that point when it was obvious that Mr Rigg was in need of urgent medical attention and the custody sergeant had told you to call an ambulance, you are updating the CAD… and you then mislead the London Ambulance Service by saying you have a man here with mental issues… rather than a man who has collapsed.”
“No,” he responded.
He was later asked by Edward Bucket QC, acting for the Metropolitan Police Service: “What benefit would there be to you to radio through and put yourself on CAD 6148 whilst standing in the custody area at 8.12pm?”
“Absolutely none,” he replied.
PC Birks was then grilled by the jury.
One juror asked: “We are all human, we all make mistakes, do you think you just made a mistake and you thought you’d just quickly try to rectify it?”
“No, not at all,” he said.
PC Birks had earlier told the jury that he went straight from the van into the doctor’s room in the custody suite, which is captured on CCTV, because his colleague PC Forward had been assaulted by Mr Rigg.
One juror asked: “Didn’t you think Sean required care more urgently, he’s on the floor acting strange, he was acting bizarre, you said you were worried about him, that’s why you blue lighted him, do you not think he took priority?”
“I wasn’t aware he required medical attention, he was up and walking around…”
“I will ask you again,” said the juror, “someone is responsive and someone is unresponsive, who is more of a priority?”
“He was responsive, he just wasn’t talking to us… [at that point] I didn’t think he was in need of urgent medical attention.”
The constable added: “It wasn’t apparent to me until he urinated himself and collapsed, then I realised there was a medical issue and I got medical help straight away.”
Mr Rigg is not seen by the forensic police examiner until half an hour after he arrives at the station, by which time he appears “lifeless” on the cage floor.
The inquest continues.