The number of apparent suicides within two days of release from police custody has reached the highest level in nine years, a police watchdog said today.
Annual figures released by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed that 64 people apparently took their own lives in those circumstances in 2012/13, up from 39 the previous year.
A number of the 64 had been arrested in connection with sexual offences, the IPCC said, nearly two-thirds were known to have mental health concerns, and seven had previously been detained under the Mental Health Act.
The watchdog said there were 15 deaths in or following police custody in 2012/13, the same as the previous year, of whom seven were known to have mental health concerns and four had been restrained by officers.
This was down from 36 in 2004/5 when the IPCC was set up.
Dame Anne Owers, chairwoman of the IPCC, said: "Each of these deaths is an individual tragedy, and it is crucial that we make sure that any possible lessons are learned.
"It is welcome that the number of those dying in police custody has significantly reduced - less than half the number before the IPCC was set up. However, it is of continuing concern that a high proportion - almost half - were known to have mental health issues, as were nearly two-thirds of those who apparently committed suicide within two days of release from custody.
"The police are often called in to deal with acutely mentally ill people, who may be a danger to themselves or others or who may be behaving in a disturbing or strange way. It is clearly important that they are better trained in mental health awareness. But these figures also point to gaps and failings in the services that ought to support those with mental illness - before, instead of and after contact with the criminal justice system."<br>
For the first time since the IPCC started work, there were no fatal police shootings in 2012/13, which was welcomed by Dame Anne.
However the proportion of deaths related to police pursuits rose, accounting for 26 out of 30 road traffic fatalities.
These happened in 19 fatal police pursuits, and 13 people were killed in six of those incidents.
Last year 12 out of 19 fatalities were related to pursuits.
Dame Anne said: "For the first time since the IPCC came into being nearly a decade ago, there were no fatal shootings in 2012/13, and this is welcome, especially given the number of occasions on which armed police are deployed.
"The increase in the number and proportion of police pursuit-related deaths is disappointing. Forces need to be mindful of the Acpo (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidelines on the management of pursuits which IPCC investigations have helped to strengthen."
In total in 2012/13, the watchdog investigated nine deaths that followed a history of domestic violence or threats, down from 18 in 2011/12.
Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity Inquest, said: "The IPCC figures add to the already substantial body of evidence that police custody is not the place for people with mental health problems. Despite countless critical inquest jury verdicts and coroners' recommendations, deaths of people with mental ill health, often involving restraint, are continuing.
"The high number of people taking their own lives following release from police custody is also extremely alarming.
"Nothing could point more clearly to the urgent need for a national strategy on mental health and policing, across all forces, and for investment in community health provision.
"And where there is evidence of wrongdoing, the IPCC must have an investigation process that ensures individuals and institutions are held to account. Without this, we won't see the change inpolice culture and practice that is so badly needed."