Sat, 20 Oct 2012

Remembrance march against deaths in custody and its policing

The United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) – a coalition of families and friends of those who have died in the custody of police and prison officers and in the care of secure psychiatric hospitals – will have its 14th annual remembrance march against custody deaths this Saturday 2012-10-27. There will be a silent procession along Whitehall, followed by a noisy protest at Downing Street. Assembly is at 12.30pm by the South side of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.

Last year's march, was unfortunately concluded by police provocation. After the event, Samantha Rigg-David (a sister of Sean Rigg) wrote on behalf of UFFC: '[...] Policing of the march in the past has appeared to be proportionate both in response to the sensitive nature of the event and also in recognition that it does not pose a threat to public order. This year, at about 3pm, after delivering the letter to Downing Street family members and friends found themselves subject to aggressive and degrading treatment at the hands of a large deployment of what we believe were TSG officers [...] We believe it was both entirely unwarranted and unnecessarily confrontational to deploy these officers [...]'

The Metropolitan Police eventually investigated their policing of the event, but found that 'no misconduct was identified on the part of any officer'. However meetings were arranged with UFFC 'regarding planning for the 2012 march, a view to ensuring the needs of the families were met.' I obtained a Report to summarise background and outcome of complaint and Commissioner’s meeting with Samantha and Marcia Rigg sent by the Met to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. (The Met refused to provide this summary report in their responses to several Freedom of Information requests.) At that meeting with the Rigg family, Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe promised to address one of UFFC's long standing practical demands: 'Hundreds of police vans are to be fitted with closed-circuit television cameras to address concerns about the "hidden" abuse of suspects.'

The ten demands are:

  1. Replacement of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to ensure open robust transparent and thorough investigations from the very outset of police deaths in custody – with a removal of all ex-police officers for it to be a truly independent body.
  2. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman should be placed on a statutory footing.
  3. Deaths in psychiatric detention and/or of those detained under the Mental Health Act must be subject to a system of properly funded investigation that is completely independent of the Health Service.
  4. Officers and officials directly involved in custody deaths are suspended until investigations are completed.
  5. Immediate interviewing of officers and all officials concerned with the death
  6. Officers and officials should never be allowed to collude over their evidence and statements of fact.
  7. Full and prompt disclosure of information to the families affected.
  8. Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts at Inquests and officers responsible for those deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired.
  9. Implementation of police body cameras and cameras in all police vehicles in the interests of both the officers and the public.
  10. There should be an automatic right to non means tested legal aid for families. There is a lack of funds for family legal representation at Inquests whilst officers and NHS staff get full legal representation from the public purse – this is unbalanced.

Overflow custody suites are visited but not Marylebone

The police made one arrest at the end of last year's march. A small group of those who participated in the demonstration went to Marylebone police station to wait for the release of the man who had been arrested, detained and eventually released without charge. This station has an overflow custody suite that is only occasionally used, mostly for public order situations. Mike Lyng, Quality and Assurance Advisor, explained on behalf of Territorial Policing and Central Operations:

In answering your specific question I can advise you that Marylebone Custody Suite was not opened in order to target any specific public order operation.

However on the day in question there were a number of events taking place in central London including The United Family and Friends Campaign annual march, Amnesty International solidarity to Syrian protestors march and Syrians love Syria counter demonstration.

In order to ensure sufficient facilities were available on this day, a charge centre in close proximity to the marches was requested. In this instance Marylebone Custody suite was selected as the dedicated charge centre. There was no specific request for the charge centre to be Marylebone. It was selected due to its proximity to the events taking place. The officer with the responsibility for this task was a sergeant from Kensington and Chelsea borough police working under the direction of Commander Michael Johnson from Public Order and Operational Support (CO11).

Several of those present wondered if Marylebone and other overflow custody suites are visited by Independent Custody Visitors (ICV). To find out I made several freedom of information requests and compiled the table in the post Visiting London's police custody suites. As custody suites can't be opened at short notice, the police can inform independent custody visitor panels of the opening of (non 24/7) custody suites at least a couple of days in advance and custody visitors can decide whether to schedule a visit. This system works for many overflow custody suites, however the Marylebone custody suites is one of those that didn't receive any ICV visit during 29 consecutive months. See the mentioned post for full details of independent visits to all of London's custody suites.

Safety of detainees when transported in police vans

The arrested man was concerned about the risk of injuries if the police van had had a traffic accident on the way to the police station. He had been handcuffed in the back and so couldn't sit properly and found it difficult to remain properly seated. I solicited the help of Jennette Arnold, my London Assembly Member, to find out more about the safety protocols for transportation of detained persons to a custody suite. Mark Rowley, Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Crime Operations responded earlier this year:

The guidance for the transportation of detainees is covered in the Police Driver and Vehicle Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). Specifically relating to the transportation of detainees in vans, officers are advised to accompany detainees so that they can be viewed at all times to prevent the detainees from self harm, taking illegal substances or disposing of evidence.

The decision on whether a detainee is handcuffed to the front or to the rear is at the discretion of the officer. However, the SOP does give some guidance, that persons handcuffed to the front should be monitored to prevent the issues raised above from occurring. Regarding the fitting of seat belts in the secure area of vans, currently there are no seat belts fitted as they could become ligature points or could be used by a detainee to cause injury to police officers or staff. The SOP was last reviewed in 2010 and as a living document is constantly under review.

When I was arrested, by the time I was transferred to a police van, they had moved the handcuffs to the front. I was sat in the secure area at the back of the van with nothing to hold on. I do not remember any police officer seating with me to monitor me during the short trip to the police station.

For safety reason, seatbelts are compulsory in cars where one is well seated in comfortable seats with their hands free, but there's no protection for handcuffed detainees sitting on hard seats at the back of police vans. It is very likely that detainees are hurt when a police van transporting them is involved in a traffic accident. A commenter annotated one my freedom of information request with the following personal story:

I was involved in an accident whilst in the back of a police van whilst being transported to a police station and I was cuffed as well as not having a seat belt on. It was never explained to me how to deal with an emergency stop under health and safety. I am currently seeking legal advice about the injury that I sustained.

Finding out hard data about injuries to detainees from traffic accidents has proved very difficult as it is not recorded in a way that can be found without a manual check of all recorded accidents:

The Traffic Operational command does not have or record details of how many detainees are transported to custody suites, although we do keep a record of the number of arrests made, but not for the whole of the Metropolitan Police Area.

We will not be able to supply details/numbers of how many detainees were injured while in a police Vehicle. Our Police collision database is not set up to run queries to identify who was injured in a collision.

Here's information regarding all collisions on public roads or public places in London involving police vehicles ('it may also include incidents where Metropolitan Police Service officers have been involved in collisions outside of the MPS district. Similarly, the information may include incidents where officers from other police forces have been involved in collisions within the MPS area'). '[N]ote that "collisions'"encompasses a wide range of incidents. For example, incidents resulting in minor scratches to incidents resulting in injuries to parties involved':

1/8/2007 to 31/12/2007: 1369 of which 235 resulted in injury
1/1/2008 to 31/12/2008: 3141 of which 444 resulted in injury
1/1/2009 to 31/12/2009: 2966 of which 429 resulted in injury
1/1/2010 to 31/12/2010: 2944 of which 389 resulted in injury
1/1/2011 to 31/11/2011: 2741 of which 326 resulted in injury
1/1/2012 to 2/8/2012: 1651 of which 192 resulted in injury

From April 2006 to March 2010, the Met listed eight fatalities following a collision on a road involving a 'police car' (there may be fatalities from collisions involving a police vehicle not included in these figures): four pedestrians, two drivers, one cyclist and one passenger. The passenger was a police officer, all the other fatalities were 'members of public'.

The independent charitable organisation Inquest records the number of deaths in police custody (or following other forms of contact with the police). Inquest explains that its 'figures are derived from our monitoring and casework and are independent of those produced by the Home Office, IPCC and other government agencies. We also monitor deaths in police pursuits and road traffic incidents (RTIs).'

Total deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police, England & Wales, 1990 to 2012-09-05

Type Metropolitan Police Other forces Total

Custody 249 701 950

Pursuit 33 284 317

RTI 19 93 112

Shooting 21 33 54

All deaths 323 1116 1439

It is likely that some detainees were among the several hundred injured annually in collisions involving a police vehicle. If any detainee died due to a traffic accident while they were transported to a police station, their death would likely be classified as a death in police custody rather than a road traffic accident.

According to Inquest, this year there has already been 14 deaths following contact with the police. This year's UFFC peaceful vigil and demonstration will hopefully be policed with more consideration.

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