Deaths in Custody

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18 January 1996.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 12:00, 18 January 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people died in official custody in 1995. [7842]

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

For deaths in police custody or otherwise with the police, the provisional figure for 1995 is 52. For deaths in prison custody, the figure is 117, which includes 60 self-inflicted deaths.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Do not these deaths shame Britain? Are not the Government, by doing nothing about them, supplying a blue touchpaper for future riots? Is it not shameful that families cannot get to see their deceased loved ones and are denied information on how they died? Should not the Government accept the Police Complaints Authority's recommendations that neck choke-holds should be banned, that public interest immunity—it is misused so even coroners cannot obtain information—should be reformed or changed and that there should be a public inquiry intothese deaths, which involve, especially, many young black men?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

In any death in police custody an inquest is held, which should bring about inquiries and satisfy the queries to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. With deaths in prison, the most serious concern is suicide. There is a suicide strategy now, which is implemented throughout the Prison Service.

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

Does my hon. Friend recall a report some time ago from the Select Committee on Home Affairs which investigated deaths in police custody? It was discovered, by listening to the evidence, that a large proportion of the prison population was made up of people who had already abused their bodies, which meant that their health was not the same as that of people outside. They were drug takers, drunks and tramps. It was felt unreasonable to fail to take that into consideration when examining death figures.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

It is true both of those who die in police custody and of those who die in prison that there is a clear link in many cases, although clearly not in all, of abuse of substances, of alcohol and of drugs. My hon. Friend is right. Before we jump to any conclusions, we should study the figures, examine the situation and investigate the causes. That produces a rather different picture from that painted by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who tabled the main question.