The leader of an investigation into the deaths of people with mental illness in police custody said new custody facilities in Haringey were “evidence of progress”.
Lord Victor Adebowale, chairman of the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing, visited the new Wood Green Custody Centre with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe this morning.
Lord Adebowale's 2013 report into the deaths or serious injuries of 55 mentally ill people, either in custody or in contact with the Metropolitan police, suggested that discriminatory attitudes, misjudgements or errors by individuals, limited resource and poor co-ordination between the police and other services were all to blame for the situation.
Visiting the Wood Green Centre, which has implemented most of the report’s recommendations, Lord Adebowale said: “I’m very pleased with the facilities here. We did make some very clear recommendations in the report that the Met police take a strong partnership with the NHS so that there was a custody suite available for people with mental health issues.”
The peer said in the past cells "were not a place of safety” for people with mental health illnesses, who were not being seen by staff who had access to medical records.
He added: “There was a significant risk of people with mental health issues being further damaged in custody. This service makes it less likely of being people being damaged or killed in custody. It’s a massive change. People in custody should be safe above all. They should get medical support.”
Lord Adebowale added that conversations with the families of those who had been injured or died in police custody were emotional and traumatic.
When asked whether it was too little, too late for the families of such detainees, he said: “If you’ve lost loved ones, this is not enough. What happened to those families should not have happened, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Sir Hogan-Howe said that around 40 per cent of people the Met dealt with, as either victims or defendants, had a mental health issue, with this increasing over the past ten years.
He said: “We’re working better with the health service. We make the right decisions about where these people are going to go, and often, that’s to a hospital”.
Wood Green custody manager Sgt Steve Townsend said the larger facilities were increasing the speed with which people could be processed by freeing up rooms for immediate consultation between detainees and healthcare professionals.
Custody officer Steve Whiting, who has worked at the Wood Green Centre for two months after previous posts in Hornsey and Tottenham, said the new centre was noticeably different.
He said: “The best thing about it is that within this one station, there’s everything here. Before, it was very fragmented. Now we’ve got everyone in the same building. If someone’s got a mental health issue, we’ve got the relevant people to deal directly with them and they can get the appropriate care.”