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Theresa May: 'Every death in custody is a failing'

REFORM: Theresa May with Simon Woolley

SPEAKING JUST metres away from where 40-year-old musician Sean Rigg died in Brixton, south London, the Home Secretary formally announced an independent review of deaths in custody.

Theresa May also revealed that the well-respected charity INQUEST, who has supported many families who have lost love ones, will play a significant role.

The organisation's input was welcomed as a smart move by campaigners, who also praised May for having a track record that proved "she was a woman who could make things happen".

May opened her speech by addressing the significance of Brixton's history, one that has been characterised by tensions between its residents and police officers.

"The riots that took place here in 1981, 1985 and 1995 are stark reminders of the importance of trust between the police and the communities they serve – and the potentially devastating consequences if things go wrong," she said.

In the audience was Marcia Rigg-Samuel, the sister of Sean Rigg, and the father of Olaseni Lewis. Both men died after being restrained by Metropolitan Police officers in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

May, who has been recognised for her push to reform police culture in the UK, said there needed to be a return to the concept of "policing by consent".

She explained: "It means, at its heart, a contract in which the police have a responsibility to treat the public with respect, and the public have a responsibility to support the police and respect the work they do to keep us safe."

This was also why, May said, she would not allow British police officers on her watch to "routinely carry guns or hide behind military-style equipment" such as water cannons.

Earlier this year, the home secretary met with the families who had been affected by deaths in police custody and in a personal letter wrote of being committed to finding "meaningful solutions".

In today's address she outlined what that would entail - including a thorough examination of how police officers use force to restrain members of the public.

The announcement coincides with today's publication of IPCC's annual statistics on deaths in police custody, which revealed there were 17 deaths in or following police custody in 2014/15 - a rise from 11 for the previous year.

It is the highest figure for five years.

May continued: "No one - least of all police officers - wants such incident to happen, and I know everyone involved takes steps to avoid them. But when such incidents occur, every single one represents a failure - and has the potential to undermine dramatically the relationship between the public and the police."

She continued that building trust went beyond the headline-grabbing examples, and also included "examples where the police have not taken victims seriously or recorded crimes as they should have" - all of which May said have a corrosive effect on relations between people and the community.

The inquiry will also address the treatment of bereaved families who were often at times made to feel like criminals rather than the victims of a tragedy.

Family members of Sean Rigg told reporters in 2009 that they were not been informed of Rigg's death until nearly six hours later and were not able to see his body for a further 36 hours.

Rigg-Samuel thanked May for her work but also reminded her of the many reviews that had come before in previous decades and said what was lacking was the political will.

She said: "Today is a good day. I like the fact that you have come to Brixton. Sean just died next door. I appreciate that...It takes a human story to change a human heart. I think your heart is genuine."

May also revealed that later this year the government would be introducing a new policing and criminal justice bill that will enshrine police reform in the law.

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