23 Jul 2015

Home Office launch major review into police custody deaths

The Homes Secretary will announce a major review into police custody deaths today with a focus on the support given to bereaved families and available mental healthcare facilities.

The annoucement comes as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed that 17 people had died in or following police custody. In the previous year there had been 11 deaths – the lowest since IPCC recording began in 2004-5.

Speaking to Channel 4 News today Theresa May said she believes “all lives matter”.

“The reason I have asked for this review on deaths and serious incidents in custody is that what happens to people in custody does matter.

“I’ve met families of people who died in police custody.

“Any death in poice custody matters – what I want to see is that the review looks at what happened in the past looks at deaths in police custody and asks the question how do we reduce the chances of a death happening again in future?”

IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers said “regrettably, our investigations have too often exposed the same issues: inadequate risk assessments; token checks on a person in custody; insufficient handovers between custody staff; a failure to recognise or properly deal with people with mental health concerns or substance abuse issues; poor liaison between police and other agencies”.

The newly announced independent probe will look at the lead-up-to and the aftermath of serious incidents and fatalities in police care.

It will also include an investigation which looks at the use of restraints, suicides that take place within 48 hours of being detained and access to mental health facilities.

Suicides increase

Figures from 2014/2015 also show that the number of suicides after being released from police custody reached its highest level for 11 years with 69 people taking their own lives within two days of leaving police custody.

The number of deaths during or after police custody, which are not considered suicides, fell by 11 over the same period.

Theresa May will say today: “Police custody is the place where a number of dynamics meet. It is the place where dangerous and difficult criminals are rightly locked up, where officers and staff regularly face violent, threatening and abusive behaviour, and where the police use some of their most sensitive and coercive powers.

“But it is also a place where all too often vulnerable people, often those with mental health problems, are taken because there is no other place to go.”

Under the review, the Home Office said that it will evaluate of the availability of mental healthcare facilities for those suffering a crisis. This will include non-offenders and a review of police awareness of mental health issues.

They will also review the use of restraints, incident investigations and support for families of the dead.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead on Custody, Deputy Chief Constable Nicholas Ephgrave welcomed the review: “There has been significant work by the police to ensure safer detention of people in custody. In statistics from 2013/14, the number of deaths in custody had more than halved since 2004/5 (36 to 11).

“However, any death in these circumstances is a tragedy and we want to do everything we can to prevent it happening. We welcome a review that aims to further reduce deaths and injuries and, if they do happen, ensure they are dealt with as quickly as possible with loved ones getting the support they need. We will work with the review team when announced.”