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PRESS RELEASE – embargoed 00:01 3 December 2010

INQUEST, the leading independent organisation working to reform the investigation of contentious deaths, today reacted to the publication of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) research into deaths in police custody.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

The findings of the research are depressingly familiar and reinforce concerns INQUEST have repeatedly raised with police bodies and government about the high numbers of preventable deaths in police custody. The question is whether there is the political will to act on these recommendations.


The study points to alarming failures in the care of vulnerable detainees suffering from mental health, drug and alcohol problems, many of whom should have been diverted from police custody.  It also raises questions about the lack of accountability of the police and the state when people die as a result of neglect, failure to adhere to guidance or procedures or following the use of excessive force.


She added:


INQUEST strongly believes that the following statistics should make for shocking reading for policy makers:


  • 68% of people who died were arrested for non-violent, public order offences such as being drunk and disorderly and drug-related offences;
  • Police force policy and procedure in relation to custody matters was breached in 27% of cases;
  • Police failed to carry out necessary risk assessments in over half of cases booked into police custody where a risk assessment was required and there was a prevalence of incidents where custody officers had not conducted proper checks or rousing of detainees;
  • 58 people had mental health issues, including 17 who were detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act;
  • 26% of people were restrained on arrest, in transportation or on arrival in custody.  People from BME groups were significantly more likely to be restrained than white people. The study suggests restraint was directly related to death in 16 cases – a quarter of which were people from BME communities;


Notes to editors:

  1. INQUEST provides a specialist, comprehensive advice service on contentious deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, other advice and support agencies, the media, parliamentarians and the wider public. INQUEST is represented on the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody and the Ministry of Justice Coroner Service Stakeholder Forum.
  2. INQUEST monitors and analyses deaths in police custody and regularly publishes evidence and statistics on specific issues. INQUEST’s own monitoring has identified an increase in the number of restraint related deaths since March 2009 (the end of the period covered by the IPCC research). INQUEST’s evidence-based briefings on restraint related deaths in custody and BME deaths in custody will be published in early 2011.
  3. The IPCC published Deaths in or Following Police Custody: An Examination of the Cases 1998/99 – 2008/09 on Friday 3 December (www.ipcc.gov.uk). The report examined 333 deaths over an eleven year period and found that a strong theme for a large number of cases studied was around the risk assessment and healthcare of detainees. In just under half of the cases police failed to carry out a required risk assessment and there was a prevalence of incidents where custody officers had not conducted proper checks or rousing of detainees. The research also found that potential factors contributing to a reduction in deaths in custody include better police cell design with fewer ligature points, ill detainees being taken to hospital rather than police custody. and better use of restraint techniques. The report makes a number of recommendations for the police and the health service to help minimise the risk of future deaths in custody.
  4. The IPCC has also published Deaths During or Following Police Contact: Statistics for England and Wales 2009/10 which details the number of deaths following police contact in a year. The statistics show a fall in the overall number of deaths from 93 in 2008/09 to 86 in 2009/10.  However, those which occurred in or following custody rose from 15 to 17.
  • Prosecutions were recommended against 13 police officers who faced a total of 36 charges yet none resulted in a guilty verdict.
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