Deaths in or after police custody fall, but mental health remains concern for IPCC

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Deaths in or following police custody continue to fall but mental health remains an issue

Deaths in or following police custody in England and Wales have continued to decline and are at their lowest for ten years, figures published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) today (Tuesdday) reveal.

The IPCC’s annual report into deaths during or following police contact shows that there were 11 deaths in or following police custody in 2013/14, down from 15 the previous year and less than a third of the 36 recorded in 2004/05 when the IPCC was first set up.

The number of police-related fatal road traffic incidents was also at its lowest over the ten year period and for a second consecutive year there were no fatal shootings by police.

But the number of those recorded as having apparently committed suicide within 48 hours of release from police custody is the highest over the last ten years, at 68 this year.

As in previous years mental health featured in a number of the deaths and this remains a serious concern, said an IPCC spokesperson.

Just over a third of those dying in or after police custody, and two-thirds of those apparently committing suicide after custody were known to have mental health concerns.

IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers said: “Every loss of life is a tragedy. So, while we welcome the continuing fall in the number of deaths in or following police custody, the high incidence of mental health concerns among those who die during or after custody remains a serious concern.

“It is clearly important that the police are trained and supported to recognise and deal appropriately with those who are mentally ill. But they cannot do so alone. We welcome the steps being taken to pilot joint working across policing and mental healthcare, and will continue to ensure that the findings of our investigations into these tragic deaths inform better practice and improved service provision.”

Those who responded to the IPCC’s recent review of its work in investigating deaths echoed concerns about the response of the police and wider agencies when dealing with individuals with mental health concerns.

The IPCC’s report Deaths during or following police contact statistics for England and Wales 2013/14 also shows that:

• The IPCC investigated 39 other deaths following police contact. Half of those who died were victims of domestic related incidents: 17 of the victims were female and nine were from minority ethnic groups.

• There were 12 road traffic fatalities arising out of 11 incidents; nine of the incidents were pursuit-related. Despite a marked increase in these deaths last year, in part due to a number of incidents with multiple fatalities, the decrease this year reflects an overall fall in the number of road traffic fatalities over the ten year period.

• There were 68 apparent suicides following police custody. Two thirds of individuals (45) were reported to have mental health concerns and three had been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 before their death.

Under the Police Reform Act (2002) forces in England and Wales must refer to the IPCC any incident or complaint involving a death which has occurred during or following police contact and where there is an allegation or indication that the police contact – direct or indirect – could have contributed to the death.