The exclusion of any agency which has worked in the area of deaths in custody and mental health, particularly from the UK’s African Caribbean communities where the deaths rates are highest, has led to accusations that the Mets new Commission on Policing and Mental Health is nothing more than a cosmetic exercise and will not result in any positive change.
The comments come as the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has announced it has commissioned an independent review into how it responds to people with mental health conditions.
Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe made the commitment to launch and independent commission in the wake of the findings of the high profile Sean Rigg inquest. This inquest put the spotlight on how mental health service users from the community are often treated when they come into contact with the police.
On 21st 2008, the musician and songwriter lost his life in less than an hour after he was arrested by the police. Although physically fit and healthy, Rigg was in urgent need of mental health care, when he was restrained by a team of four police officers and taken to Brixton police station where he died.
The inquest verdict concluded that the Police as well as South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) who were responsible for his care at the time, ‘more than minimally contributed to his death’.
With people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities 50% more likely to be referred to the mental health services when in urgent need of mental health care than their white counterparts, Black Mental Health UK have been actively working to get see an improvement in the treatment of this vulnerable group while in custody for a number of years.
BMH UK’s work has also spotlighted the issue of deaths in custody has also been a major concern across this community.
With data from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) showing that mental health service users account for 50% of those who lose their lives in police custody and that black men in particular are over represented among these figures there is widespread concern at the exclusion of those have been working on these issues for a number of years from the Met’s new commission.
Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said: ‘It is deeply concerning to see the exclusion of the key agencies who have a track record of working in this area, and the families affected by this issue excluded from this Commission on Policing and Mental Health.’
‘Black Mental Health UK is the only organisation in the mental health sector that has been working in the area of deaths in custody, mental health and the impact on ethnic minorities for the past few years. This is the area where the death rates and most disturbing incidences involving the police and mental health service users occur.’
‘INQUEST has long history and unparalleled expertise in this field, and conducted by most significant review of mental health and policing after the tragic deaths of Roger Sylvester. INQUEST is also the only agency that supports bereaved families who have lost loved ones including mental health services users who have died in police and other custodial settings.
To choose to exclude experts from BMH UK and INQUEST who have the critical insight needed in this area which would ensure the transformation in police treatment of this vulnerable group, leaves one with the impression that this is nothing more than a cosmetic exercise, which will not result in any change positive change.’