By Ken Fero
Migrant Media has just released ‘Who Polices The Police?’ a documentary on the complicity of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in deaths in custody and the struggle of one family for justice. The film’s director, Ken Fero, writes about the making of the film and on the images that the police do not want you to see.
I have been asked why did I decide to make a film about Sean Rigg. The answer is simple – it was impossible not to. I have a history of making films with a collective called Migrant Media and all those films follow the struggles of families and communities against injustice and human rights abuses. In 2001 we released a feature documentary called ‘Injustice’ that looked at the deaths in police custody of a number of young black men. The film became very controversial when police officers attempted to suppress it claiming it was libellous and eventually, after a long battle, the film made an international breakthrough when CNN picked up the story. ‘Injustice’ went onto a cinema release, won many festival prizes and helped to force a reform of the investigation process into custody deaths. Since then we have been filming a follow up to ‘Injustice’ which is due for completion next year but the Rigg case demanded a film of it’s own because of the resilient campaign that Sean’s family undertook for justice which de facto became about the utter failure of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to play a role in that seeking of justice. After spending some time investigating the IPCC it became clear to us that the organisation has utterly failed in its duty in the Rigg case, the question is why?
Without going into great detail, the film does that already, the IPCC investigation was shoddy to say the least. Incompetence, or perhaps complicity, led to fatal errors in the investigation too numerous to mention. The initial involvement of the IPCC was to put out a press statement – later retracted after complaints from the family – that Sean had died in Kings College Hospital and had only passed through the police station. In August this year – four years after Sean’s death – this attempt at deflection ended in public humiliation for the IPCC when the jury into Sean’s inquest took the unprecedented step of striking out the hospital name from the record. Instead they marked down the place of death as ‘Brixton Police Station’ – that was clear to anybody who saw the CCTV footage which showed the last moments of Sean’s life ebbing away as he lay on the custody cage floor with officers surrounding him. The damning inquest verdict was only possible because of empirical analysis of endless hours of CCTV footage by Sean’s siblings Wayne, Samantha and Marcia. The inquest exposed the actions, and ensuing lies, of the police officers involved in this horrific case because of the tenaciousness of the Riggs and their legal team led by barrister Leslie Thomas and solicitor Daniel Machover. This has now led to new charges being considered for perjury against two of the police officers in the case who openly lied in court. Whether there will be any further charges to officers in relation to Sean’s brutal death remains to be seen but if it had been left in the hands of the IPCC this case would have been closed long ago.
“Who Polices The Police?” raises deep questions about the proximity of the IPCC and the police but it also offers some answers. When people watch the film they are shocked at how poor the IPCC investigation into Sean’s death was, sadly this is very typical. The IPCC was formed after the PCA (Police Complaints Authority) had been thoroughly discredited because of a lack of independence in its investigating police misconduct and wrong doing, hence the creation of the IPCC. The Rigg case is one of many others we have filmed since 2003, in its early days the IPCC indicated some improvements but these were minimal and the situation today is that the IPCC is untenable. The answer as to whether it is worth saving and how it should function rests in the hands of the Rigg family and the families of many hundreds of others that have died since the IPCC was created. My perspective on what is needed is that, whatever its name and whoever staffs it, the organisation must be able to undertake robust and rigorous investigations as we are dealing with the most serious abuses of power by police officers and they need to be dealt with in a proper manner. Officers that commit serious crimes need to receive serious punishment, including going to jail. This is a minimum requirement for the bereaved and will also bring about a reduction in custody deaths. There can be no more effective deterrent than a prison cell to a police officer that uses violence instead of using their brain. The current ‘Get out of jail’ card that officers carry in their pocket needs to be taken out of the equation.
Over the four years since Sean’s death, and while we were making the film, the family of Sean Rigg became investigators because the IPCC failed to do the job. It cannot be right when members of the public are forced to undertake the role that state bodies like the IPCC is tasked to do. The families of those that die in police custody simply want a proper investigation in the way that we all would want if somebody we knew died but because the police are implicated, involved and – in some cases – responsible for these deaths the rules change, collusion seeps in and evidence is tainted. It’s clear that there are many people in the community that could do a more thorough job than the existing IPCC commissioners and investigators.
There has been a very sustained period of criticism of the IPCC from it’s handling of the investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 to the more recent one of Mark Duggan last year. Currently there are a number of reviews, internal and external, of the IPCC partly brought on by the Rigg inquest which exposed what amounts to criminal negligence in its handling of the Rigg investigation. The new IPCC head, Anne Owers, has launched an offensive but it’s unclear to what purpose. Evidence is being gathered and many individuals and lobbying groups are making submissions. The IPCC has entered a period of chronic public and political scrutiny brought on by it’s own unforgivable lack of vigour and an inability to perform its functions in an independent manner. In the meantime deaths in police custody, and their investigations, are continuing under its remit.
“Who Polices The Police?” is an investigation of the Rigg case but it’s also a much wider exploration of the issues involved and the use of experimental techniques and poetry allow a more personal, and political, response. The film is now making a contribution to a big debate and a number of media organisations have been forced to wake up and look at this issue. Expect a rash of television programmes that will clear up as quickly as they appear. We believe that audiences are bored by television factual programming and want to experience a different kind of cinema that is more authored more passionate and speaks in images that makes them feel they are part of humanity and not just consumers of messages that the broadcasters want us to believe.
‘Injustice’ took seven years to make; this film was made over a four-year period. We normally follow a method of process journalism where we spend time with characters and stories, get involved and also move the story along. This dedication leads to powerful results but it’s also a very time consuming form of film-making that requires political commitment, a rare commodity in the media world. Despite the huge respect and international success of our work our position, approach and style is very out of favour with UK broadcasters and since we made ‘Injustice’, which the BBC and Channel 4 still refuse to transmit to their shame, we have had to finance all our own work as the broadcasters refuse to commission us. No wonder deaths in police custody have gone unabated for the last forty years, television has rarely brought it up in any sustained way. There have been a handful of programmes since we took the ground-breaking steps with ‘Injustice’ but they have not been challenging or critical enough. The collusion between the police and media is touched on strongly in ‘Who Polices The Police?’ Is it sour grapes with Channel 4 on our part? Perhaps so, but we have a right to be angry given their cowardly refusal to screen ‘Injustice’ which is surely now in the national interest given the revelations about police misconduct in and after Hillsborough. If only our broadcasters would show the same courage that the Riggs, as well as all the other campaigning families, support groups and legal teams have shown we could feel a little prouder of them.
Why do we continue despite the odds? The answer again is that it is impossible not to. We make films to make change, we want to move people and film can be a very powerful tool for those that are excluded, oppressed and do not have a voice in the mainstream media. Documentary film makers that immerse themselves in the subject always get moving and powerful results and I urge anybody that wants to make films to pick up a camera go for it, and keep going, until you create the film that is in your heart and soul. You need an awful lot of resilience and determination with an equal measure of humility with the people you work with. I believe that art, and film is an art, is about action rather than consumption. If the few films we have made can help to unite people and call those in power to account then all the difficulties, threats and side-lining we have faced as film-makers is worth it. Working with families like the Riggs, and we have been doing that for 30 years now, is rewarding enough because there is nothing more honourable than to give a voice to the voiceless.
‘Who Polices The Police?’ is showing on the Migrant Media film site at https://vimeo.com/user6137135
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