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14 deaths in or following police custody over 2015/16, report says

Published 26/07/2016

The total number of deaths was down from the five-year high of 17 seen in 2014/15
The total number of deaths was down from the five-year high of 17 seen in 2014/15

Fourteen people died in or following police custody in the space of a year, and there were three fatal shootings by officers, figures have shown.

The number of people shot in 2015/16 was the second highest figure recorded since 2004/5, watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.

Six of the 14 had some force used against them, including one knee strike, two physical restraints and three physical and leg restraints, but this did not necessarily contribute to their deaths. Seven of those who died in or after custody had mental health issues, while 12 used drugs or alcohol.

The total number of deaths was down from the five-year high of 17 seen in 2014/15, which was six more than the previous 12 months.

Figures released on Tuesday by the IPCC showed there were also 60 apparent suicides after custody, the fourth highest level since 2004/5, 22 of whom had been arrested for alleged sex crimes including 17 accused of abusing children.

Thirty-three of those who apparently took their own life had known mental health concerns, and 28 were either on drugs or alcohol, or it "featured heavily in their lifestyle".

Dame Anne Owers, chair of the IPCC, said: "These figures show the range and scale of the vulnerabilities that underlie the majority of deaths during or after police contact, and the strong link with mental illness. The police need to be able to identify these vulnerabilities and risks, in order to manage them.

"There have been considerable improvements in the custody environment, reflected in the statistics, but there is further to go, particularly in assessing and managing risk and ensuring that information is passed on within the police service and to other agencies. Forces do not always have a clear and consistent understanding of vulnerability and how to manage it.

"However, the responsibility does not just lie with the police service. Time and again, the police deal with people whose needs and risks have not been picked up or managed in the community.

"It is welcome that the use of police custody under the Mental Health Act has dropped considerably and the Policing and Crime Bill is set to ban this practice for children and make it exceptional for adults. That will require a significant increase in appropriate and available alternative provision."

There were 21 road traffic deaths in 2015/16, up seven from the previous year. Thirteen of the deaths were in police chases.

The IPCC investigated 102 other deaths following police contact, more than double the number - 43 - that were probed the previous year, but the watchdog said this was due to beefed-up resources.

The three people who died after being shot by police marksmen in 2015/16 were:

:: James Fox, 43, who was killed by officers in Enfield, north London, on August 31 2015 after allegedly brandishing a gun at a block of flats. A non-police firearm was later found.

:: Richard Davies, 41, was fatally shot at his home in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, after a stand-off with police on October 21 2015. Officers found two knives and a gun at his home.

:: Jermaine Baker, 28, from Tottenham in north London, was killed in a police operation near Wood Green Crown Court, also north London, on December 11 2015.

There were five fatal shootings in each of the years 2005/06 and 2007/08, and there were three in 2008/09. There was one in 2014/15.

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest which provides advice on deaths in custody and detention, said: " Year on year the vulnerabilities of those who die in or following police custody are recognised. The fact is that too many vulnerable people with mental health, drug and alcohol problems experience poor treatment at the hands of the police, are much more likely to be restrained by the police and to die in police custody.

"The police are increasingly being called to respond to concerns about the health and well-being of vulnerable people. This highlights the urgent need for an alternative approach to those in crisis. This needs a health and welfare response which requires the proper resourcing of national healthcare provision and alternatives to custody.

"What is essential is that these deaths are subjected to robust and transparent investigation. Too many deaths reveal the same systemic or individual failings and the failure to act on recommendations made to prevent further deaths."

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