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Film: Who Polices the Police?

Ken Fero, director of 'Who Policies The Police?' writes about the making of the film which examines the complicity of the IPCC in deaths in custody and the struggle of one family for justice

October 24, 2012
8 min read

Photo: Migrant Media

I have been asked many times why I decided 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 of 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 of a number of young black men in police custody. The film became very controversial when police officers attempted to suppress it, claiming it was libelous 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 its own, purely because of the resilient campaign that Sean’s family undertook for 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 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 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 Policies 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, but 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. 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 in these cases 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 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 its handling of the investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 to the more recent Mark Duggan case 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 Policies 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 much larger debate and a number of media organisations have been forced to wake up and look at this issue.

‘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 filmmaking 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, we have had to finance all of 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 groundbreaking steps with ‘Injustice’ but they have not been challenging or critical enough. 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 have, as well as all the other campaigning families, support groups and legal teams, then perhaps we could feel a little prouder of them.

‘Who Polices The Police?’ is showing on the Migrant Media film site at https://vimeo.com/user6137135

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