Deaths in Custody, a government response

Tuesday 28 April 2009
Custodydeaths – epetition response
We received a petition asking:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that the Government does more to address the issue of people dying in the custody or care of police, prison and mental health institutions.”
Details of Petition:
“The United Families & Friends Campaign challenges the Prime Minister to intervene in what we believe to be a lack of justice for families following a death in custody. What We Demand -Deaths must be investigated by a body that is genuinely independent of the police. -Prison & Mental Health deaths must be subject to a system of properly funded investigation independent of the Prison Service and Health Service. -Officers involved in custody deaths are suspended until investigations are completed. -Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts at inquests. -Police forces are made accountable to the communities that they serve. -Legal Aid and full disclosure of information be made to the relatives of the victims. -Officers and staff responsible for deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired. The following are statements from affected families: “The struggle for justice for all the others that have died at the hands of the state, goes on. We ask people to support us. “It is not in the public interest for the victims of deaths in custody to be denied justice”.
· Read the petition
· Petitions homepage
Read the Government’s response

“The Government takes this issue very seriously. The Government also deeply sympathises with those who have lost family members in such tragic circumstances.
All incidents where someone has died following direct or indirect contact with the police must, by law, be referred by the force concerned to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), an independent body with responsibility for the police complaints system and the investigation of the most serious incidents. The IPCC will then assess whether the matter should be investigated using its own investigators or whether the matter can be investigated by the police under the direction and control or supervision of the IPCC.
If, during the course of an investigation, there is an indication that a person serving with the police may have committed a criminal offence or behaved in a manner that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings, then that person is informed that they are subject of investigation. A decision will also be made as to whether the person subject to investigation should be suspended from duty whilst the investigation takes place.
At the conclusion of the investigation, if there is an indication that a person serving with the police may have committed a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision as to whether any charges should be brought. This procedure will be followed irrespective of whether the officer subject to investigation has retired or resigned from the police service.
Whether a case should be reviewed again following an ‘unlawful killing’ verdict at an inquest is also a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Mental Health Act Commission reviews the deaths of all patients who have died from non-natural causes. The Commission publishes information on the deaths of detained patients in its Biennial Report. In all circumstances families should be informed about the process of investigation and how they may be involved.
All prisoner deaths are investigated by the police and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). Following a death the PPO investigates and publishes a report of their findings after the inquest. Moreover, all deaths in prison custody are also subject to a Coroner’s inquest before a jury.
More generally, the Government seeks to help the families of those who die in state custody through the provision of timely, sympathetic information and support. The National Offender Management Service, for example, has developed an effective system of well-trained family liaison officers which is improving its work with families in these circumstances, and the PPO assigns a family liaison officer in every case they independently investigate.”
Is this enough? Conditions in prisons are bad and many who end up there are vulnerable people probably with mental health needs in the first place. The solution to use a sticking plaster to deal with a life-threatening wound is not likely to offer a remedy to this appalling problem.

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