Custody deaths static but delay in Government report is disappointing

25 July 2017

Custody suite

Better health and social care for mentally ill detainees and people with other vulnerabilities should be available and accessible by custody officers, warns the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).

We've expressed disappointment that publication of the Home Secretary’s Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, chaired by Dame Eilish Angiolini, has been delayed until after the summer recess.

The warning comes as new figures from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) (released today) into deaths in or following police custody show the annual figure remaining static at 14 – but the numbers of those suffering with mental ill-health had risen from seven to eight. In addition 11 of the 14 had links to alcohol and/or drugs.

Andy Ward, PFEW Deputy General Secretary and custody lead, said: “We have said repeatedly that police cells are not the right place for those with mental health issues and other problems but for far too long the police service has been used as a sticking plaster to solve society’s issues.

“Budget cuts across the NHS and local authorities mean that too often the police service is forced to step in when troubled individuals are in need or in crisis.”

The report also showed a drop in the number of apparent suicides following police custody from 60 to 55.  Mr Ward continued: “While one death is too many, we are pleased the figures reflect the dedication and work of our members to protect and safeguard detained people and the increased help and support that detainees are receiving, but much more needs to be done. What cannot be ignored is that almost three quarters of the apparent suicides (40) had known mental health concerns and nearly half (26) had drugs and/or alcohol concerns.”

He said that when custody sergeants invariably tried to contact health or social care professionals to access more suitable provisions for detainees, there were often no appropriate facilities available at that time or they were unable to get through to the right person.

“These are exactly the issues which were being examined in the Independent Review, which was ordered by the Home Secretary and completed several months ago,” added Mr Ward.  “For her to now decide not to publish the findings until after the summer recess is deeply disappointing. We are eager to see all the recommendations and detail of the report and frustrated that its publication has now been deferred until September.”