THE number of apparent suicides within two days of release from police custody has reached the highest level in nine years, a watchdog has revealed.
Annual figures released by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) reveal that 64 people apparently took their own lives in those circumstances in 2012-13, up from 39 the previous year.
Many of the 64 had been arrested in connection with sexual offences, the IPCC said, nearly two-thirds were known to have mental health concerns, and seven had previously been detained under the Mental Health Act.
In April a West Yorkshire police officer was found dead in woods in Lofthouse, near Wakefield, hours after being released from custody. He is understood to have been arrested over an image found on a computer.
The case of 33-year-old Pc Kevin Ellis, of Whitwood, Castleford, who was arrested on April 17 and later bailed, has now been referred to the IPCC.
An inquest in April heard that Pc Ellis was being driven to his parents’ house by another officer after he was released from custody when he asked to be dropped off nearby, saying he wanted to walk the rest of the way.
Police discovered that he had not arrived at his parents’ home during a welfare check at around 9.30pm that night.
The IPCC said there were 15 deaths in or following police custody in 2012-13, the same as the previous year, of whom seven were known to have mental health concerns and four had been restrained by officers. This was down from 36 in 2004-05 when the IPCC was set up.
In May, Neil Budziszewski, 42, of no fixed address, died at Ecclesfield Police Station in Sheffield. Both his and Pc Ellis’s deaths occurred too late to be included in the IPCC’s latest figures.
IPCC chairwoman Dame Anne Owers said: “Each of these deaths is an individual tragedy, and it is crucial that we make sure that any possible lessons are learned.
“The police are often called in to deal with acutely mentally ill people, who may be a danger to themselves or others or who may be behaving in a disturbing or strange way. It is clearly important that they are better trained in mental health awareness.
“But these figures also point to gaps and failings in the services that ought to support those with mental illness – before, instead of after contact with the criminal justice system.”
For the first time since the IPCC started work, there were no fatal police shootings in 2012-13. But the proportion of deaths related to police pursuits rose, accounting for 26 out of 30 road traffic fatalities.
In total in 2012-13, the watchdog investigated nine deaths that followed a history of domestic violence or threats, down from 18 in 2011-12.
Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, a charity that investigates deaths in custody, said: “The IPCC figures add to the already substantial body of evidence that police custody is not the place for people with mental health problems.
“Despite countless critical inquest jury verdicts and coroners’ recommendations, deaths of people with mental ill health, often involving restraint, are continuing.
“The high number of people taking their own lives following release from police custody is also extremely alarming.
“Nothing could point more clearly to the urgent need for a national strategy on mental health and policing.”