Police custody deaths at highest level for a decade

Twenty-three people died in or following police custody last year – the highest number for a decade.

Figures from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) show there were nine more police custody deaths in 2017/18 than the previous year.

The number was the highest since 2007/2008, when there were 22 such deaths.

Last year, those who died included eight people who were taken ill in a police cell, three of whom died there and five who died later in hospital.

One was a pregnant woman who was under the influence of alcohol but had been found fit to be detained; and another a man who had earlier been restrained using a spit hood and leg straps.

Nine of those who died were taken ill at the scene of their arrest, four became unwell in a police vehicle and two died following release.

There were four fatal police shootings between April 2017 and March 2018 – including the three London Bridge terror attackers – compared with six last year.

IOPC director-general Michael Lockwood said: “The rise in deaths in police custody this year, which includes at the point of arrest, in transit, in cells or in hospital, is concerning viewed against a trend of falling numbers over the last decade.

“Each of these tragic deaths is subject to investigation and we await formal causes of death for most of them.

“What is clear is that many present a complex and challenging set of factors, with links to drugs and alcohol and mental health concerns being very prevalent among those who have died.

“The issues go wider than the police service, as officers can often be dealing with vulnerable people whose needs and risks may not have been adequately managed elsewhere.

“However, it is important, when the police are involved, that they are properly trained and equipped to manage the challenges they inevitably face, and that they learn from past mistakes.”

Twelve of the 23 people who died in 2017/18 had mental health concerns, while 18 were users of drugs or alcohol.

Julia Mulligan from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said forces have concerns about mental health and drug support services in some areas.

“Police and Crime Commissioners have longed campaigned for people with health problems to be dealt with effectively by the health service, and although we welcome recent changes in legislation that make police custody very firmly the exception, we do have concerns about provision in some areas. The same is true for substance misuse support services,” she said.

Seventeen people who died had been restrained or had force used against them by police or others, but the use of force did not necessarily contribute to their deaths. Of these, nine were white and eight were black.

There were 29 road traffic deaths, down three from the previous year, 17 of which were related to police pursuits.

Seven of those who died were the driver of a vehicle being chased by officers – including one motorbike and one moped. Four others were passengers in cars being pursued, one was either driver or a passenger, two were passengers in an unrelated vehicle and three were pedestrians.

Eight deaths were as a result of seven incidents involving officers responding to an emergency call, the highest figure since 2004/5.

Two people died when a police-dog van, that was unmarked but had lights and sirens on, crashed into their car. Another person died when they were involved in a head-on collision with a police car on its way to a disturbance.

The other five were pedestrians who were hit by police vehicles.

A total of 57 people apparently took their own lives following police custody, the same number as the previous year.

Of those, 29 (51%) had been arrested for an alleged sexual offence, of whom 25 (44%) were suspected paedophiles.

The IOPC investigated 170 other deaths following police contact, up from 132 the previous year, which the watchdog said reflected an increase in the number of investigations rather than deaths.

One was Marc Cole, 30, from Falmouth, who was Tasered after threatening people in the street with a knife and died shortly afterwards. His cause of death was found to be linked to his having taken cocaine, experiencing an episode of altered behaviour, and his restraint, including the discharge of a Taser.

Of those cases, 146 followed contact with police after concerns were raised for the person’s welfare, and among those 45 died following a missing person report and 43 after fears about their risk of self-harm, suicide or mental health issues.

Twenty-one were linked to domestic incidents.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Peter Macdiarmid / PA Wire.