A Metropolitan police custody sergeant who gave evidence that he had checked on Sean Rigg at the inquest into the 40-year-old’s death has admitted in court he “made a mistake”.
Rigg died after collapsing in police custody on 21 August 2008. After being arrested, he was kept in the back of a police van for some time before being taken into Brixton police station, where he fell ill.
Paul White, 53, is accused of lying while giving evidence at the inquest into Rigg’s death.
White allegedly told the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in March 2009, and repeated in the 2012 inquest, that he left the south London custody suite to check on Rigg in the police van.
The prosecution alleges he maintained this lie for “as long as possible” because he wanted to conceal the fact he had failed to go to the vehicle to check on Rigg’s welfare, and only apologised when he was caught out by CCTV evidence years later.
But White told Southwark crown court he had made a mistake and was shocked when he saw CCTV footage that led him to concede he could not have visited the van when he said he had.
Giving evidence, he said: “I was completely shell-shocked, I had the wind taken out of my sails and no way on this Earth did I just apologise because I thought it was a fig leaf I could use. I just apologised because I knew I was wrong.”
He added: “What was going through my mind I do not know, but I clearly got it very wrong.”
The police sergeant denies lying while giving evidence at the inquest, and could only answer “I can’t remember” when repeatedly asked by the prosecutor Max Hill QC about what he could recall from the night of Rigg’s death.
He told the jury he was “completely confused” about the sequence of events that ended with him standing over Rigg’s body, which was curled up unresponsive on the floor of the caged area to which he had been transferred.
Hill asked him: “If I was to suggest that these aspects of your account that you claim not to remember … did not fit the account you wanted to give that day, would you agree with that?”
White replied: “No sir.”
Hill continued: “As a trained and experienced police officer, it simply won’t do for you to say ‘I can’t explain how it happened’. The truth is, you can explain – although you are not prepared to.”
White, who was sitting in the witness stand as he recovers from a knee operation, denies one count of perjury.
At one point a spectator in the packed public gallery started to cry, and White’s voice appeared to break as he explained how he had separated Rigg’s clothes and possessions into paper bags for DNA testing.
Cross-examining White, Patrick Gibbs QC, defending, asked: “Then, or in 2009 or in 2012, or now, do you think you were doing anything wrong in not going straight to the van the moment you were told you have someone violent in the van?”
“No,” White replied.
Gibbs also questioned White over allegations that he had been hostile towards Rigg.
“It has been suggested to you that your attitude to Mr Rigg was hostile. Is there anything here that you have seen, or read, or watched, or remembered that makes you think your attitude was ever hostile to him?”
The defendant replied: “Not at all, I was never hostile to him.”
The trial continues.
This article first appeared in The Guardian