Yard plans SOS units after custody deaths

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND YARD plans to bring in rapid response medical units after growing concern about the number of "vulnerable" people dying after they have been restrained and held in police custody.

The move is prompted by the death earlier this month of Roger Sylvester, a mentally ill man who collapsed after being restrained by eight police officers. The black 30-year-old died a week after collapsing on a hospital floor in north London. He was seized by police after a report that he was naked and causing a disturbance in Tottenham, north London. He was detained and taken naked to hospital.

Metropolitan Police chiefs are particularly worried about a rise in the number of violent incidents involving people with drug and mental health problems. The Met is considering plans to set up several specialist mobile emergency units that can be sent to the scene of an incident. The units are likely to include a police paramedic or health worker. Scotland Yard also wants to video more of the controversial cases so that the film can be used as evidence in inquests and civil claims.

The proposals were disclosed yesterday by Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who said that a police group headed by Denis O'Conner, Assistant Commissioner, was set up earlier this week after the death of Mr Sylvester. The use of excessive and inappropriate restraint has been criticised at a number of cases.

An inquest jury decided on Wednesday that businessman Nathan Delahunty, who had 52 injuries on his body, died partly as a result of being restrained by police in sout- west London in July last year. It was disclosed yesterday that the Met's internal complaints unit is to re-examine the case to see whether any charges should be brought against the officers involved. Sir Paul said any rapid response team - which would be the first of its kind in the world - could help to deal with the "hundreds" of 999 calls the Met received every year that related to people with behavioural problems.

He said he was particularly concerned about cases involving cocaine users who have died after a violent physical reaction to being restrained by the police. He said: "We need to have a long, hard look at the way we deal with vulnerable people on the streets.

"It's becoming harder and harder for police officers to know how to deal with these people." Sir Paul added: "We have become the front line for care in the community."