Mental health continued to be a key factor in deaths in or after police custody in 2012-13, according to statistics published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The IPCC’s report 'Deaths during or following police contact: Statistics for England and Wales 2012/13' shows that deaths in police custody remained at 15, the same as 2011-12, but many fewer than in earlier years.

But almost half of those who died were known to have mental health concerns, the same proportion as in 2011-12. Additionally, four of those who died were known to have been restrained by police officers.

There was a considerable rise in the number of apparent suicides within two days of release from police custody, with 64 such deaths, the highest number recorded over the past 9 years. A number had been arrested in connection with alleged sexual offences. Almost two-thirds were known to have mental health concerns, a higher proportion than in 2011-12, and seven had previously been detained under the Mental Health Act.

Better training in mental health awareness
Dame Anne Owers, chair of the IPCC, concluded: “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 and after contact with the criminal justice system."

Reacting to the report Lord Victor Adebowale (pictured), chief executive of Turning Point and chair of the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing said: “These statistics give additional weight to the idea that mental health is a core part of the day-to-day business of the police and needs to be treated as such.

"I fully support the IPPC’s recommendation that police officers are better trained in mental health awareness; this is key. Frontline police officers are the public face of policing, encountering difficult challenges every day and often being first on the ground in an emergency. In light of this it is crucial that they should be supported in any work that relates to mental health issues through thorough training and guidance and closely working with partners in health and social care."

Watch our exclusive interview with Dame Anne Owers from the recent BMHUK Policing & Mental Health event: