Letter: Deaths in police custody tragic but rare

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Sir: Paul Donovan's article "Stoking the fires of resentment" (21 August) does just that. A more balanced view is presented in the report, initiated by the Community-Police Consultative Group for Lambeth into deaths in custody, which puts the problem into perspective.

One death in custody is one too many but your article states that over the past 10 years there have been 576 deaths in custody. However, it does not, as the Lambeth report does, detail the many different circumstances which may be classed as a death in custody; for example if police are called to an address where the individual is already unconscious and subsequently dies en route to hospital, this is classed as a death in custody.

The Lambeth report, entitled Lessons from Tragedies, states: "Very few [people] die as a result of being detained in police custody after an arrest in violent circumstances. There is invariably greater publicity where this does occur, and we acknowledge the widespread perception that the number of deaths is far greater than the reporting suggests."

The assertion that the issue of long-handled batons and CS spray "obviously make deaths more likely" is similarly unfounded.

You are right to say that in the absence of a complaint it is up to the police force to decide whether they refer the case to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). However, you fail to point out that the Metropolitan Police Service, as a matter of course, voluntarily refers all cases of death in custody to the PCA.

The article makes the point that the victim's family do not have access to the evidence or the PCA report prior to the inquest. The officers who are involved in the case are in the same position.

We are on the record as having stated that should the weight of public opinion call for the setting up of a wholly independent complaints investigation body then we would have no objections.


Deputy Commissioner

Metropolitan Police

London SW1