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Police should use special techniques on people who may be mentally ill, IPCC says

The recommendations come in a report which considers how a different approach could have prevented the death of James Herbert.

Police officers should not restrain people suspected of suffering from mental health problems, the police watchdog has said.

They should instead use containment and de-escalation techniques when dealing with members of the public who could be mentally ill, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.

The recommendations are contained within a report, Six Missed Chances, which considers how a different approach could have prevented the death of former public schoolboy James Herbert.

Mr Herbert died in custody in June 2010 after being held under the Mental Health Act having taken “legal high” NRG-1.

The 25-year-old, who started smoking cannabis as a teenager and also took cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy and LSD, was later seen acting strangely on the Bath Road in Wells, Somerset.

He was restrained by officers from Avon and Somerset Police and placed in the back of a patrol van.

(Family handout/PA)

Mr Herbert was driven more than 27 miles to Yeovil police station before being carried on a blanket into a cell, where he was left on the floor naked.

The data recovery engineer, from Wells, was later found to be unresponsive and was taken to Yeovil District Hospital by ambulance where he was declared dead having suffered a cardiac arrest.

Mr Herbert’s death has been the subject of two investigations and an inquest, held in 2013, which found he died from “cardio-respiratory arrest in a man intoxicated by synthetic cathinones causing acute disturbance following restraint and struggle against restraint”.

The IPCC investigation recommended Temporary Inspector Justin French, who was on duty at Yeovil police station at the time, should face disciplinary proceedings but earlier this month a misconduct panel dismissed allegations he had lied at Mr Herbert’s inquest.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided no criminal charges would be brought against any police officer or the Avon and Somerset force in connection with Mr Herbert’s death or the evidence given at the inquest.

Six Missed Chances looks at what could have happened, focusing on the missed opportunities and the unintended consequences and has made a series of recommendations to the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing.

They are:

:: Police officers responding to an incident involving someone with mental health problems should prioritise the welfare and safety of all those involved, including the patient.

:: Officers should be effectively trained in verbal de-escalation as the default response to any incident involving someone with mental health problems.

:: Officers should be trained to use containment rather than restraint when dealing with anyone who has, or appears to have, mental health problems.

:: Each local force should ensure that it has in place robust, effective and relevant local protocols that support police officers in the discharge of their duties, backed by effective working relationships with other agencies on how to respond to incidents involving someone with mental health problems.

:: Forces should develop clear processes for the recording and sharing of information about individuals who are known to, or are suspected to have mental health problems.

IPCC deputy chairman Rachel Cerfontyne said: “Whilst it is not possible to say what would have happened if the missed opportunities had been taken, it is clear the outcome could have been very different.

“In common with many other bereaved parents I have met in my role, James’s parents hold a fervent wish to see something positive come out of their loss.

“They want the knowledge that their son’s suffering was not entirely in vain, and that lessons can be learnt from James’s story which will reduce the chances of other vulnerable people dying in similar circumstances.

“The welfare and safety of all those involved in an incident where someone is suffering from mental illness need to become the paramount consideration for police officers.

“While it is reassuring to see the significant changes Avon and Somerset Constabulary has made in its response to mental health issues in the last four years, such changes are not universal.”

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