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Black charity given role in custody deaths inquiry

INVESTIGATION: Theresa May (PA)

A CHARITY that campaigns for the rights of families of death in custody victims will play a key role in a new government inquiry into the treatment of people in police custody.

Home Secretary Theresa May has asked Black Mental Health (BMH) UK to assist with a Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) investigation into police practices when they have a vulnerable person in custody.

The decision was made at a “historical” meeting between the May and BMH UK.

The hour-long talk, which took place at May’s office on May 1, was part of an ongoing discussion that BMH UK have been having with Home Office officials since the launch of their campaign against black deaths in custody in October last year.

Matilda MacAttram, director of BMH UK, said: “We welcome the fact that the invitation was extended to us. We did not ask we were invited and we think that it is a sign that our campaigns are bearing fruit and that the issues are on the home secretary’s and the government’s agenda.”

She added: “The first concrete step she has taken is to order the HMIC to conduct an inquiry into the treatment of people in police custody - particularly vulnerable groups and people from our communities. She has also asked us to assist HMIC in the direction of the programme.”

Black people are also disproportionately affected by deaths in custody and, according to the charity, are also over-represented among those detained under the Mental Health Act, even though they do not suffer higher rates of mental illness than any other ethnic group.

Bishop Lewellyn Grayham a member BMH UK’s delegation at the Home Office meeting said: “The outcome we are looking for is that the issue of black deaths in custody is taken seriously and the Home Secretary indicated that she is aware of this issue and will make changes going forward.”

He added: “This is a positive step, and we also welcome the Home Office facilitating brokerage between HMIC and organisations like BMH UK going forward so that we can contribute and influence the outcome of the planned HMIC inquiry to ensure that there is lasting change and justice is seen to be done. We don’t want any more deaths in custody.”

Alicia Spence from the African Caribbean Community Initiative, which supports those from the black community who have mental health concerns, was also at the meeting.

She said: “I welcomed the Home Secretary’s response to the issues that we raised, because when you have the captain of the ship that is saying that I don’t want this kind of thing happening on my watch it will make a difference operationally.

“When those on the front line know that there has to be accountability about their actions then they will think more about how they treat people because of the consequences.”

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