Every death in custody is a tragedy. Each one is investigated independently by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman or the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and is the subject of a coroner’s inquest. Every effort is made to learn lessons from these investigations, and the prevention of further deaths is a priority for police, prisons and immigration detention services.
The very small number of cases in which criminal offences are believed to have been committed are referred for further investigation by the police and/or to the Crown Prosecution Service, and where appropriate charges are brought. The final outcome in such cases is a matter for the courts.
The report by the Institute of Race Relations brings together information from a number of sources to highlight the particular issue of deaths of Black and Minority Ethnic people in custody. It describes 509 cases of ‘suspicious’ death, including large numbers of natural causes deaths as well as self-inflicted deaths and the ten cases that resulted in inquest findings of unlawful killing. These deaths occurred over a period of more than twenty years.
The report acknowledges some of the improvements that have been made during that period. It also reminds us of the enduring nature of many of the issues related to deaths in custody, particularly that the families of the deceased and others in the Black and Minority Ethnic community continue to lack confidence that appropriate action is being taken in response to such deaths. The Government is working to address this, for example through more effective liaison with families, as well as improvements to restraint techniques and training.
The Government announced in February 2014 that Lord Harris of Haringey would lead a review into self-inflicted deaths of 18-24 year olds in NOMS custody. The report will be published in due course.