The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) must improve its response to mental health to reduce deaths in custody says a new report.
An independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing reviewed 55 cases looking at how the MPS responded to people with mental health issues over the past five years.
The cases reviewed found that five cases were deaths in police custody, and 45 deaths were either prior to or following contact with the police. The other five cases resulted in serious injury.
The report recommends that the MPS must be provided training and guidance to be able to work with people with mental health issues, particularly as they interact with the police in many different ways such as witnesses, victims of crime and as suspects.
Commission chair Lord Victor Adebowale, speaking at the launch of the report, said: “I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the families of those who have died for their contribution to this report. Whilst a report like this cannot take away their suffering, I hope that those who receive this report, ensure that the recommendations are implemented in the name of the families as citizens who have lost loved ones in terrible circumstances. They deserve the reassurance that other families will not suffer the same loss.”
The independent Commission included a number of health practitioners and independent consultants. Cllr Patrick Vernon, a member of the commission, said: “It was a real privilege to work with Lord Victor Adebowale and commission members over the last seven months to be part of this independent inquiry. The inquiry report makes mental health core business for Metropolitan Police Service. At times it was real hard and emotionally challenging to examine and review the 55 cases along with listening to the families’ experiences of the systematic failure leading to the death of their love ones. Respect to all the families who are still fighting for justice and peace.”
Some of the key findings in the report include:
- In most cases, there were failures in systems, mis-judgments or errors by individuals, resource limitations, poor co-ordination with other services or discriminatory attitudes towards people with mental illness that led eventually to these deaths.
- People with mental health issues complained they were treated like criminals by the police. They also felt individuals with mental health issues were handled with too much force, that the police should engage more with the families, and that police and NHS staff should have more mental health training.
- Many families said they could not understand why there was not better liaison between agencies. Some professionals made similar points in evidence.
- The Commission did have access to MPS files. However paper files and records were incomplete. This is clearly unacceptable for a 21st Century, customer-focused police service.
- Care pathways must be recognised and developed and there needs to be greater operational working together, such as inter-agency working within the NHS, clinical commissioning groups and local government.
- The Commission’s report was based on evidence direct from families over five years, MPS files as well as wide consultation with the public, service users and professionals. The Commission panel was independent and made up of experts who gave detailed consideration to the evidence.
“We need to ensure that Councillors, Assembly Members, Mayor for London and MPs across London ensure the Met Police implement all 28 recommendations from the report. The issue of the black communities experience around mental health and policing is now a clear political priority that we all need to lobby and support the families and human right organisations,” Mr Vernon continued.
To read the full report click here