By Simon Basketter
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Rise in custody deaths an indictment of police racism

This article is over 5 years, 10 months old
Issue 2615
The United Families and Friends Campaign has fought for justice for those who have died following contact with the police
The United Families and Friends Campaign has fought for justice for those who have died following contact with the police (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Some 283 people died after contact with the police in England and Wales last year.

Most reporting pointed to the 23 deaths in or following police custody. It’s the highest figure recorded in the past 14 years and an increase of nine since last year.

But the figures are not unproblematic.

At least three young black men who died during or after police restraint are not included in the latest official count of “deaths in or following police custody”.

Police restrained Edson Da Costa and after six days he died in Newham, east London, on 21 June 2017.

Police and members of the public restrained Shane Bryant in Leicestershire on 13 July 2017. He died two days later.

Police restrained Rashan Charles in Hackney, east London, on 22 July 2017 and he died.

But these three are excluded from the headline 23 figure because they were technically not in custody. They had not been arrested.

Instead they are included as part of the what the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) describe as “other deaths” following contact with the police.

The IOPC investigated 170 “other deaths” following police contact—up from 132 the previous year.


Of those cases, 146 followed contact with police after concerns were raised for the person’s welfare. Among those 45 died following a missing person report and 43 after fears about their risk of self-harm, suicide or mental health issues.

A total of 57 people apparently took their own lives following police contact.

Austerity has meant more vulnerable people are not getting support. But the truth is that it is coming in to contact with the police that is dangerous and possibly fatal—especially if you are black.

Deborah Coles, Director of the Inquest legal charity and campaign group said, “These figures, the highest for over a decade, are an indictment of the failing systems of investigation, learning and accountability which follow police related deaths.

“The disproportionality in the use of force against black people adds to the irrefutable evidence of structural racism embedded in policing practices.”

There were four fatal police shootings between April 2017 and March 2018. There were 29 road traffic deaths, 17 of which were related to police pursuits.

Seven of those who died were driving a vehicle being chased by officers. Four others were passengers in cars being pursued, one was either driver or a passenger, two were passengers in an unrelated vehicle and three were pedestrians.

Of the 23 deaths in custody there were nine more police custody deaths in 2017/18 than the previous year.


Seventeen were restrained or had force used against them by the police or others before their deaths.

Eleven of the 23 people had some use of force used against them by officers or by members of the public. Twelve of the 23 people had mental health concerns.

The IOPC is the latest attempt to rehabilitate how the police investigate themselves. It is a relaunched renamed of version of the disgraced Independent Police Complaints Commission which was itself a replacement for previous discredited bodies.

There has still never been a successful manslaughter or murder prosecution of a police officer for a death in police custody.

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