By Zephaniah Samuels
The commitment by Scotland Yard Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe to refit hundreds of police vans with closed-circuit TV following concerns raised by the Rigg family over hidden abuse of suspects by officers could prove to be life saving.
The commitment comes after the Rigg family met with the commissioner this Summer in the wake of the damming inquest verdict into their brother Sean Rigg’s, who lost his life just 91 minutes after he was restrained by four officers and taken to Brixton Police station back in 2008.
The inquest verdict found that both the police and South London and Maudsley NHS Trust had “more than minimally contributed” to the musician and songwriter’s death.
Although New Scotland Yard have publicly apologised to the family for Rigg’s death it has noted that no such public statement has been forthcoming from the health trust responsible for his care.
The family met with the commissioner after the verdict to discuss the case of their brother’s treatment at the hands of the police, the wider issue of deaths in custody and the heavy handed treatment of grieving families and supporters at the annual United Friends and Families Campaign march in October last year.
The commissioner gave assurances to the Riggs at this meeting that this year’s UFFC march would not be kettled by the police as it had been in 2011. He also informed them of his plans for CCTV to be fitted out in hundreds of police vans as part of a move to for more transparency and accountability of the police.
The Rigg family have welcomed this move. “If there had been camera’s in the back of the police van when my brother was arrested, the evidence given by police officers saying that he was violently ‘spinning himself around’ in the tiny caged area at the back of the van, which was not psychically possible, would have been dealt with straight away,” Marcia Rigg said.
Hogan Howe first floated the idea of CCTV in the back of police vans earlier this year in April during a road show at Lambeth College.
“If we misbehave it will capture it, but, equally, for the people who misbehave or make false allegations, it will capture it. We have got to have a conversation with our staff because they may feel threatened by that. But they and the public should be more reassured by the surveillance of what we do. It will challenge the officers when they get it wrong and it provides evidence when they get it right,” Hogan Howe said.
The police commissioner also promised to root out racism in the force following allegations constable Alex MacFarlane, 53 officer racially abused Mauro Demetrio when he was arrested in the aftermath of the London riots last year.
The disturbing recording made by the 21-year-old on his mobile phone after he was stopped by the police records a police officer admitting that he strangled him because he was a ‘***t’. Then moments later the recording details MacFarlane subjecting Demetrio to a tirade of racist insults saying “you’ll always have black skin. Don’t hide behind your colour.”
The outrage and widespread publicity of this case led to charges being brought against Alex MacFarlane, who denies racially abusing Demetrio and will stand trial in October.
Estelle du Boulay, director of the independent community group Newham Monitoring Project, which has been campaigning for CCTV in the back of police vans for some time, said: “Unfortunately the number of reports we receive indicate that this is not an issue of a couple of racist police officers but a far deeper problem. To challenge racism and abuse of power we need to increase transparency around police interactions, improve accountability and provide greater protection to members of the public. CCTV is now commonplace in almost every part of public life, except for where they are most needed – in the back of police vans.”
Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said: “With data from the Care Quality Commission showing that mental health service users from the UK’s African Caribbean community are 50% more likely to be picked up by the police when in need of urgent healthcare this new measure could have the positive impact of weeding out abusive officers and act as a deterrent against mistreating people, and in particular vulnerable mental health service users when they are in crisis.”
“The camera need to be working and individual officers should not have control of the filming or how the footage is preserved, if the community are going to have any confidence in this new measure,” MacAttram added.
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