Seven post-custody suicides in Yorkshire in one year

West Yorkshire Police's Leeds District Headquarters on Elland Road, Leeds. Custody Sergeant Simon Carbutt checks the new cells.'11th April 2014. JG100268c Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.
West Yorkshire Police's Leeds District Headquarters on Elland Road, Leeds. Custody Sergeant Simon Carbutt checks the new cells.'11th April 2014. JG100268c Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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There were seven apparent suicides by people who had just been released from police custody across Yorkshire last year, according to new statistics.

The total is among 69 apparent suicides in the two days after police custody in 2014/15 across the country, one fewer than the previous year, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Cases are included if they happen within two days of a person being released, or where the time spent in custody may have been a factor in the death.

There were three such incidents in West Yorkshire, two in North Yorkshire and two in the Humberside police force area. The total of seven for the region is two higher than 2013/14.

It comes as a major review into deaths in police custody was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May. The independent probe will examine the lead-up to and aftermath of fatalities and serious incidents, with a focus on the support given to bereaved families.

The only deaths in custody in Yorkshire in 2014/15 were three in West Yorkshire. IPCC investigators are already looking into possible links between three incidents where men died after being held in custody at a new £34 million police headquarters in Leeds.

The death of Robert Ward on October 28 was the third time in less than six months that someone has died after being detained at West Yorkshire Police’s state-of-the-art Elland Road district base, which opened last April.

There were 17 deaths in or following police custody nationwide last year. This is an increase from 11 in 2013/14, which was the lowest number since recording began, but said to be broadly in line with the average number of such deaths over the last six years.

IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers said: “The police face particular challenges in dealing with people who are mentally ill, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“I welcome the efforts being made to ensure that those who need medical assistance do not end up in police cells but are dealt with in an appropriate healthcare setting.

“One of the IPCC’s most important functions is to investigate deaths in or following police custody, to make sure that lessons are learned and future deaths prevented wherever possible.

“It is essential for the families of those who died that they know and understand what happened and why.

“Regrettably, our investigations have too often exposed the same issues: inadequate risk assessments; token checks on a person in custody; insufficient handovers between custody staff; a failure to recognise or properly deal with people with mental health concerns or substance abuse issues; poor liaison between police and other agencies.

“I welcome the revised guidance on detention and custody being issued shortly by the College of Policing, which our recommendations have contributed to.

“Police forces need to ensure that all staff working in a custody environment are trained on its content, to help make sure those in custody are kept safe.

“It is also encouraging to see more joint working between policing and healthcare providers including the introduction of street triage, and liaison and diversion schemes.

“We also welcome the plan to transfer responsibility for healthcare provision in police custody in England to the NHS.”

Setting out the inquiry into custody deaths in a speech in London today, Mrs May said: “Sadly, as these figures show, deaths and serious incidents in custody may be rare, but they do happen.

“And when they do, for the families involved who have lost loved ones, all too often the system doesn’t work the way you would expect.”

She confirmed the review will not reopen and reinvestigate past cases. It will examine processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents and have the experience of bereaved families at its heart, the Home Secretary said.

Mrs May said the principle of policing by consent centres on a “contract” in which “the police have a responsibility to treat the public with respect, and the public have a responsibility to support the police and respect the work they do to keep us safe”.

She added: “And when things go wrong ... that unwritten contract is damaged and the police’s ability to maintain law and order is undermined.”

Ajibola Lewis, whose IT graduate son Olaseni Lewis died after he was restrained in a south-east London psychiatric hospital in August 2010, accused authorities of “deep-seated and repeated failures”.

She said: “If the review is going to be more than an exercise in public relations, and if it is to enjoy the confidence of families in our position, it must find a meaningful way to learn from and reflect our experiences.”

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