UNITED: People protest against deaths in police custody (PA)
MORE PEOPLE are committing suicide following a period in police custody last year than in nearly a decade, a new report reveals.
According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), 64 people killed themselves between 2012/13 within two days of being released from police custody, the most since 2003/04.
Almost two-thirds of those who committed suicide were known to have mental health concerns, and seven had previously been detained under the Mental Health Act.
The police watchdog also found deaths in police custody stayed the same in 2012/13, as in the previous 12 months, at 15 - 47 per cent of those who died are believed to have mental health problems.
Of those who died in police custody, 14 were men and one was a woman, while nine people had a link to alcohol and drugs.
Also, four of the deaths happened after the detainees were restrained by police officers.
Dame Anne Owers, chair of the IPCC, said: "Each of these deaths is an individual tragedy, and it is crucial that we make sure that any possible lessons are learned.
"It is welcome that the number of those dying in police custody has significantly reduced – less than half the number before the IPCC was set up.
"However, it is of continuing concern that a high proportion – almost half – were known to have mental health issues, as were nearly two-thirds of those who apparently committed suicide within two days of release from custody."
She added: "The police are often called in to deal with acutely mentally ill people, who may be a danger to themselves or others or who may be behaving in a disturbing or strange way.
"It is clearly important that they are better trained in mental health awareness. But these figures also point to gaps and failings in the services that ought to support those with mental illness - before, instead of and after contact with the criminal justice system."
The number of fatalities caused by police pursuits totaled 26, accounting for 87 per cent of 30 all recorded road deaths involving police last year.
Owers said: "The increase in the number and proportion of police pursuit related deaths is disappointing. Forces need to be mindful of the ACPO guidelines on the management of pursuits which IPCC investigations have helped to strengthen.”
In response to the report's findings, Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, a charity supporting bereaved families of those who have died under police supervision, said:
“Nothing could point more clearly to the urgent need for a national strategy on mental health and policing, across all forces, and for investment in community health provision.
“And where there is evidence of wrongdoing, the IPCC must have an investigation process that ensures individuals and institutions are held to account. Without this, we won’t see the change in police culture and practice that is so badly needed.”