Thames Valley Police records six deaths following police contact last year

New figures reveal that six people died following contact with police in Thames Valley last year.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 10:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 10:40 am
New figures reveal that six people died following contact with police in Thames Valley last year.

Charity Rethink Mental Illness said the high number of deaths nationally of people severely affected by mental illness following contact with police is very concerning.

Across England and Wales, there were 206 deaths following police contact in 2019-20.

Thames Valley Police recorded one death in or following custody, three deaths believed to be suicide following release and two other deaths following contact with the force. Other deaths are subject to an independent investigation. They include cases where a missing person or someone with mental health or medical concern has had police contact. They also cover domestic incidents where there has been threat or violence.

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Figures from the Independent Office for Police Conduct for 2010-11 to 2019-20 show that 66 deaths were recorded following contact with Thames Valley Police across the decade.

They included:

- 22 apparent suicides following release from police custody. These are deaths recorded by the force that occurred within two days of release - or in some cases longer, where the time in custody may be relevant.

- nine road traffic fatalities following police pursuits or police vehicles responding to emergency calls.

- five deaths during or following custody. The figure includes fatal injuries or medical problems during detention and cases where the person was intoxicated when arrested or became unwell at the scene.

- 30 deaths following police contact which were subject to an independent investigation. In 2014-15, the Home Office announced there should be more independent investigations. This had a direct impact on the number of deaths recorded.

Will Johnstone, policy manager at Rethink Mental Illness, said: "People experiencing a crisis in their mental health are highly vulnerable and need dedicated care, so it’s in no one’s interest for the police to be plugging gaps in mental health services.

“Investment in community mental health services is crucial to reduce the number of people who reach the point of crisis before they can access meaningful mental health support.

"We also hope to see reform of the Mental Health Act, accepting recommendations that police cells are an inappropriate place of safety for people experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Michael Lockwood, the IOPC director general, said: "Every death is a tragic loss for the families and loved ones involved, and can have a profound effect on others.

“Police have hundreds of thousands of interactions with the public each year.

"Where deaths do occur following contact with police, it is important we have in place robust systems of investigation and accountability, identifying learning where we can so changes can be made to reduce future risks.

“Far too often officers are left dealing with vulnerable people in mental health crisis or medical emergencies whose needs and risks have not been adequately managed.

"Police must be properly trained and equipped to recognise vulnerability and manage the risks and challenges they face.

"But if we truly want to prevent further deaths and harm, we must look beyond policing to resources in community, health, welfare and specialist services."