Deaths in or following police custody

Demographics

Eleven people died in or following police custody in 2013/14; all were men aged between 31 and 70 years. Ten people were reported to be White and one person as White and Black Caribbean. Four people were identified as having mental health concerns. The types of mental health concern identified included post traumatic stress disorder, dementia, or erratic behaviour, which led to officers detaining two of them under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. Eight people were known to have a link to alcohol or drugs in that they had recently consumed, were intoxicated from, or were in possession of drugs or alcohol at the time of their arrest. In three of these cases, a pathologist stated that alcohol or drugs toxicity was a factor in the cause of death.

Circumstances of detention

Circumstances of detention Table 4.1 shows why the person was arrested or detained by the police. Three people were arrested for a non-driving offence relating to alcohol or drugs, which included being drunk and incapable or being in possession of, or intending to supply, an illegal substance. Two people were arrested for driving offences: one for drink-driving and the other for driving while disqualified. Two people were detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. Other alleged offences included theft, shoplifting, criminal damage and threats to kill. Of the 11 fatalities in or following custody, it is known that three involved some form of restraint.

This does not necessarily mean that the restraint contributed to the death. In one incident, hand cuffs and leg restraints were applied to the detained person. In another, a spit hood, handcuffs and leg restraints were used, which were later replaced by a body cuff 6 . In another incident, a man was taken to the ground by officers in order for them to apply handcuffs. All incidents are subject to an independent investigation.

Circumstances of death

In the circumstances of the deaths reported below, cause of death, as taken from the pathologist's report following a post-mortem7 , is reported for six of the 11 people who died. At the time of reporting, cause of death was still awaited for five people. Ten of the eleven cases are awaiting an Inquest where cause of death can be revised. Seven people were taken ill, or were identified as
being unwell, in a police cell. Three of these people died in the police custody suite and four were transferred to hospital where they died shortly after. Of these seven:

• Three men, all of whom were apparently intoxicated on arrest, died after becoming unresponsive while in a police cell. In each case, an ambulance was called, but they all died at the police station with medics in attendance. Causes of death for these men were: respiratory failure; acute alcohol toxicity with alcoholic steatohepatitis, hypertensive heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus; and suspected sudden seizure.

• Two men died after they had been taken to a police custody suite having been detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 8 . Both men had been restrained by police. One man was restrained using handcuffs, leg restraints and a spit hood, which was later replaced by a body cuff. The other man was physically restrained and had handcuffs and leg restraints applied. Both were taken ill while in custody and were transferred to hospital by ambulance where they died later that day. The cause of death is awaited for both men.

• One man was taken ill following his arrival in custody. He was taken to hospital by ambulance where he died two days later; the cause of death was cocaine, amphetamine and butylone toxicity.

• One man, who was intoxicated, was arrested for threats to kill and taken into custody. During a cell check, officers raised concerns about his breathing and an ambulance was called. He was taken to hospital where his death was subsequently confirmed. The cause of death is currently awaited.

Two people were taken ill at the scene of arrest:

• One man was arrested for being drunk and incapable. The man appeared unresponsive to officers’ instructions and they were unable to rouse him. Officers called for an ambulance and he was pronounced dead at the scene. His cause of death is awaited.

• An ambulance was called to attend a road traffic incident where an elderly man was found unwell in the driver’s seat of a car. Police were called to assist as the man was refusing medical treatment; he was then arrested for road traffic related offences. Due to concerns about his health, he was transported by ambulance to hospital where he died the following morning. The pathologist reported the cause of death to be bronchopneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dementia. The inquest determined the cause of death to be natural causes. Two people were taken ill or were identified as being unwell while in a police vehicle:

• One man was a passenger in a car that was stopped by police officers as part of a preplanned operation. The man was arrested and, following a struggle, he was physically restrained by officers and placed in a police van. En route to the police station the man became unwell and the vehicle was diverted to hospital where he died. The cause of death was recorded as cocaine toxicity.

• One man was arrested for theft after being detained by security guards. Officers became concerned about his health while he was in the back of a police vehicle. An ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital where he later died. The cause of death is awaited.

Trends

Between 2004/05 and 2008/09 there was a yearon-year reduction in the number of deaths in or following custody from 36 in 2004/05 to 15 deaths in 2008/09. Over the next two years the number of deaths in custody increased to 21 in 2010/11 before falling back to 15 in 2011/12 and 2012/13 with a further fall to 11 in 2013/14.Over the ten-year reporting period, five people are known to have made a fatal suicide attempt in a police cell; the most recent occurred in 2008/09.

Source: Independent Police and Crime Commissioner