On 23 July 2015, the Home Office announced a major review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody, to be carried out by the Right Honourable Dame Elish Angiolini QC. On 30 October 2017, Dame Elish’s review was published, alongside the Government’s substantive response. In December 2018, a progress update was published focusing on three main themes: supporting families, strengthening accountability and preventing deaths.
The Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody has continued to oversee and drive progress work resulting from the recommendations in the Angiolini Review. Today, as co-chair of the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody, I report on the progress made in delivering this work programme since the last update.
There has been significant progress made in response to the recommendations made by Dame Elish. Of the 110 recommendations, 65 have been completed fully, with a further 20 completed in part. The Government update addresses in detail each of Dame Elish’s twelve thematic areas covered in her report: restraint, custody environment, health and wellbeing, funding for families and family support, communications, investigations, coroners and inquests, accountability, training, learning, statistics and research.
Since 2018, the Home Office has substantially reduced the use of police custody as a place of safety for people undergoing a mental health crisis and introduced a major package of reforms to improve the effectiveness of the police complaints and discipline systems in order to increase accountability and help reduce delays. The Department for Health and Social Care has rolled out NHS England and NHS Improvement-commissioned liaison and diversion services to ensure when vulnerable people are in custody that their needs are identified and addressed and introduced the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 (Seni’s Law) to increase the oversight and management of the use of force in mental health units, so that force is only ever used as a last resort.
The Ministry of Justice has undertaken a range of work to make inquests more sympathetic to the needs of bereaved people, including updating materials to aid families throughout the coronial process, publishing a protocol on how Government will act when it has interested persons status and encouraging local authorities to provide areas in coroners’ courts that are suitable to family needs.
The College of Policing has published guidelines on conflict management, including de-escalation and negotiations to promote safer resolutions to conflicts, updated their training to cover acute behavioural disturbance and introduced guidance on the role of a safety officer to monitor the use of restraint. Agencies, including the coroner’s services and Independent Office for Police Conduct, are continuing to ensure the voices of bereaved families and victims are part of their training, harnessing their knowledge to ensure they receive appropriate support and that no one else endures the same experience.
Since becoming Policing Minister, I have met a number of key stakeholders to develop my future priorities to tackle deaths in police custody in line with the spirit of Dame Elish’s recommendations. These include supporting police chiefs and PCCs to continue to drive forwards a zero-tolerance attitude to deaths in state custody, to treat each death as a serious tragedy and to learn quickly from deaths that do occur; ensuring detainees receive the response most appropriate to their needs as soon as possible and that appropriate health and social services are available; improving data collection to fully understand the extent to which protected characteristics impact detainees’ experience and use of powers within police custody and consideration of support for detainees judged at risk of post-custody suicide.
I am committed to keeping our work in this vital area transparent, and will ensure that regular updates on work to prevent deaths in police custody will be included in the published annual progress updates of the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody.
Every death in police custody is a tragedy. The impact is devastating on their loved ones. Dame Elish Angiolini’s report has been and remains a catalyst for change, and I am determined that we continue to prioritise preventing deaths in police custody and, in the tragic instances that they do occur, holding organisations to account and improving support for families to demonstrate how seriously we take these incidents.
I am placing a copy of our progress update in the Libraries of both Houses and on www.gov.uk.