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Home secretary Theresa May has expressed solidarity with those who have lost family members as a result of deaths in custody.
In a revealing letter written by May, she echoed the sentiments of families who feel let down by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The families of Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis, young black men who died in police custody in 2008 and 2010 respectively, met with the home secretary in January.
Following their meeting, in a two-page letter addressed to the Rigg’s family lawyer Daniel Machover, May outlined key areas of concern and accepted that more needed to be done in order to produce “meaningful solutions”.
On the IPCC and its questionable ‘independence’, May said her office was prepared to study the proposed changes of an internally produced action plan and evaluate whether the recommendations were sufficient enough to steer the institution in the right direction.
The reforms expected to take place include “a new model for family liaison, measures to improve communications with the wider public, and to increase the diversity of their staff”.
The consensus amongst both families was that there needed to be a change in the culture of the IPCC that would ensure bereaved families are treated with respect rather than suspicion.
Ajibola Lewis, the mother of Olaseni, said: “The current system is in need of urgent reform. As a family, we feel that we have been victimised rather than supported by the system.
“This attitude needs to change so that bereaved families and the public can have full confidence that a thorough and fair investigation will take place.”
May admitted that a legal barrier preventing the IPCC from reopening cases it had already concluded was “unsatisfactory”.
READY FOR ACTION: Marcia Rigg, centre, has been campaigning tirelessly on behalf of her brother
In the cases of both Rigg and Lewis, the police were initially exonerated by an IPCC ruling only to have the decision quashed in the High Court.
“It is clearly unsatisfactory that families should have to go to court to quash an IPCC report in order to secure a second investigation into the death of a loved one,” May wrote.
The home secretary also highlighted the long-standing inequality on the subject of the costs of legal representation, which in most cases, unfairly disadvantaged families in pursuit of answers.
Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg, said: “While the police and two other state bodies received automatic funding out of the public purse, we had to go through an extremely intrusive legal aid process.”
The family was initially asked to pay a £21,000 contribution towards legal representation, an amount that they could not afford.
May’s letter implied that such decisions would be reviewed “sympathetically” in the hopes that progressive results could be achieved.
Both families have welcomed the present work of May and the Home Office, as have campaigners.
Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity INQUEST, who attended the meeting in January, said: “After decades of indifference from successive governments this letter represents important recognition of our significant concerns about the treatment of bereaved families.”
The future of the IPCC has been brought into question following the Labour party’s bold proposal to scrap it entirely if they are successful in the general election.
With election day fast approaching, both families have called for a cross-party commitment to continue the agenda initiated by May.