Nearly half of police custody deaths followed restraint – report

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·3 min read

Almost half of the people who died in or after being held in police custody in the last year had been restrained beforehand, figures show.

A report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), published on Thursday, said there had been 18 deaths in or following police custody in 2019/20 – one more than a year earlier.

Of those, eight had been physically restrained before their deaths – one of whom had been carried out by “others” or “non-police”, such as a member of the public, rather than officers.

Out of the 18 who died in total, 14 were white, three were black and one person’s ethnicity was not recorded. Among those restrained, six were white and two were black.

Of a further 107 deaths investigated by the IOPC following contact with police – 50 fewer than the previous year – seven had involved “restraint or other use of force” by police officers and two by “others”.

The report added: “The use of force did not necessarily contribute to the death.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

According to the figures, one of the 18 deaths took place in a police custody suite, three others died at the scene of arrest, seven were taken ill at the scene and died in hospital and six others died in hospital after falling ill in a police cell. Another person died in hospital after falling ill in a police vehicle.

There were three fatal police shootings, the same figure as the previous year, and two of those were terror-related.

Mental health problems and incidents linked to drink and drugs were “again common factors among many of those who died”, the report said.

It found 11 of the 18 who died in or after being held in police custody had mental health problems and 14 had links to drugs and/or alcohol.

Half of the other deaths investigated by the IOPC following police contact (54) were reported to be intoxicated at the time of the incident or it had “featured heavily in their lifestyle”, while 75 were reported to have mental health problems.

In 92 of the 107 deaths, concerns had already been raised about someone’s welfare – 27 of which were “domestic related” and 18 involved reports of a missing person.

The number of apparent suicides following police custody, 54, had decreased by nine compared to the previous year, the report said.

Of these, 16 had been arrested for an alleged sexual offence, 12 of which involved allegations of crimes against children.

There were also 24 deaths in the same number of police-related road crashes, 18 fewer fatalities than the previous year. Some 19 of the deaths were linked to police pursuits, a decrease of 11 from the previous year.

Deborah Coles, director of the charity INQUEST which supports families through the inquest process, said the links between deaths and “mental ill health, intoxication and restraint continue to raise concerns” as well as the number of deaths remaining the same as 10 years ago, claiming black men are “still disproportionately affected”.

She added: “It is clear that not enough is being done. At a time of increased visibility of the role of police in our communities, we must see more action to protect lives.”

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said although the number of deaths was in line with average figures for the last decade, every fatality was a “tragic loss for the families and loved ones involved, and can have a profound effect on others”.

He said it was important to have “robust systems of investigation and accountability” in place when deaths after police contact occur “so changes can be made to reduce future risks”.

The number of police chase-related deaths “highlights the importance of continued scrutiny in this area”, he said, adding that it was “really disappointing that year-on-year we continue to see drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues feature so prominently”.

This highlighted “the need for systemic changes which are beyond the remit of policing”, he added.