Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:24 am on 3rd November 2017.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 11:24 am, 3rd November 2017

May I add my congratulations to Mr Reed on bringing forward this Bill? I warmly support it and applaud his willingness to work with people across the House to ensure that the Bill fully meets the concerns of Seni’s parents and family and others who have been in such circumstances—I will share another story with Members on behalf of one of my constituents shortly—and works properly for those who are involved in mental healthcare in our country and who, like our police, will occasionally have cause to restrain those who are mentally ill. Those people work in very challenging circumstances and it is important that the Bill fully reflects that and is workable and fair to them as much as it is fair and transparent for those who are on the receiving end of its provisions.

I wish to discuss three areas, the first of which is the story of my constituent, James Herbert who died in police custody in 2010. He was mentally ill and had been restrained shortly before his death. Secondly, I wish to look at how this Bill might have helped in that situation and how, in so many ways, it will certainly help to ensure that those sorts of events do not happen again. Thirdly, I will consider what additional training we might offer not only to our police, but to those who work in mental health. We need to make sure that, yes of course, there are safer techniques for restraint, but that there is also a much greater understanding of how we de-escalate those circumstances so that restraint might not be necessary.

James Herbert was known to the Avon and Somerset police, particularly those serving locally in and around Wells, as being mentally ill. Over the course of the day on which he died, there were a number of occasions when the police had had cause to observe his behaviour. On the evening after a hot June day, he was detained by the police. In the process of that detention, he was restrained. He was then put into a police van and driven for 45 minutes to a custody suite where he was stripped naked and put into a police cell. He died later that night of a cardiac arrest. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has looked in full into his death in the seven years since, and its report “Six missed chances” is rightly very critical of what happened that night. It is important to note that the police officers involved—one of whom is still a constituent of mine; the other, very sadly, took his own life a year or two ago—have not been held personally responsible for what happened. The failings that were identified were systemic, institutionalised failings—that sort of misunderstanding of mental health and the way that the processes were handled.

The Bill brings forward a very important aspect of how we deal with those with mental ill health. Sometimes, restraint is unavoidably necessary, but how that is done can have a profound impact on people such as the constituent of the hon. Member for Croydon North and my constituent, James Herbert.

Undoubtedly, the Bill will help. Staff not deliberately restraining people in a way that constrains an airway is clearly a very important and necessary provision, so, too, is restricting the intervention of a restraining technique that causes pain. Similarly, people should always seek to use the least restrictive method of restraint possible. Those are necessary de-escalatory measures, which in themselves could help, not quite to calm the person but at least not aggravate them further, which happens so often. The more that I have spoken to police officers about James Herbert’s case, the more they tell me that their concern to get their job done and retain the person means that they find themselves naturally going up through their levels of force and the application of their physical power. As both sides seemed to rub off of one another, they both got more and more aggravated, and the use of force became all the greater. The police reflected afterwards that they might have approached the situation differently in the first place.