A campaign group says it is “hugely disappointed” with the conclusions of a commission set up to examine the cases of people with mental health conditions who died after contact with the Metropolitan police.
The Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing reviewed 50 deaths and five cases of serious injury between 2007 and 2012, including six cases where the person was being restrained or was in police custody, and 38 suicides.
The report concludes that the Met was guilty of a series of failings including a disproportionate use of force and restraint, discriminatory attitudes and behaviour, a lack of training, and a failure to deal effectively with calls related to mental health.
The commission, chaired by Lord [Victor] Adebowale, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, and set up last September by the Met police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, concluded that mental health needed to be part of the force’s “core business”.
It also called for improvements to the skills, awareness and confidence of frontline staff; better information systems; improved healthcare for those in police custody; and better joint working between police, health and social services.
The report also calls on the police to develop “a safer model of restraint”.
But Matilda MacAttram, director of the campaign group Black Mental Health UK, who has raised concerns about the number of mental health service-users from the UK’s African-Caribbean community who have died in police custody, said she was “hugely disappointed” by the recommendation on restraint.
She said: “The reason a disproportionate number of people who use mental health services die in custody is because they are restrained.”
She said that any restraint of someone with a mental health conditions was unlawful under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the UK has signed up to.
She said: “Restraint of any vulnerable person who has a mental health condition is unlawful – it criminalises and traumatises.
“The starting point needs to be ‘no restraint’. We need to look at how we de-escalate situations where vulnerable people are distressed.
“There is no place for coercion, there is no place for pain, there is no place for added trauma.”
In 2011-12, almost half of those people who died in, or shortly after, leaving police custody in England and Wales were identified as having mental health conditions, while in 2011, more than a third of those who died in police custody were from black or minority ethnic communities.
MacAttram said the police needed to be trained to engage people in mental distress “with humanity”, because it would “send a positive message to society at large about how we in the UK treat this vulnerable group”.
16 May 2013