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Amber Rudd under new pressure after UN criticises ‘racism’ of British police forces

Ethnic minority people are three times more likely to be Tasered than white people, report finds

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 27 April 2018 10:21 BST
Rashan Charles protest: Riot police called to Dalston as bins are set alight

Amber Rudd's tenure at the Home Office has again been thrust into the spotlight after the United Nations raised serious concern over the deaths of a “disproportionate number” of black and minority ethnic people in police custody in Britain.

“The deaths reinforce the experiences of structural racism, over-policing and criminalisation of people of African descent and other minorities in the UK,” a panel of human rights experts said.

They accused authorities of failing to properly investigate police officers involved in the deaths, leaving a lack of accountability and the “denial of adequate remedies and reparation for the families of the victims”.

The report comes as the home secretary is already under intense pressure over the Windrush scandal and facing accusations that she misled the Commons over the use of deportation targets. She has also come under fire from colleagues for her stance on Brexit.

Amid mounting calls for her to tender her resignation, Ms Rudd tweeted an apology late on Friday and said she would address MPs in the Commons next week.

"I wasn't aware of specific removal targets. I accept I should have been and I'm sorry that I wasn't," she wrote.

"I didn't see the leaked document, although it was copied to my office as many documents are."

The warnings on police treatment of black people in custody come after the 25th anniversary of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence cast renewed focus on racism in the UK.

An inquiry found that “institutional racism” had marred the police investigation and let the killers initially go free, amid alleged corruption that is still under investigation.

The murder sparked the creation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), changes to race relations laws, recruitment targets for black and Asian police officers and soul searching across Britain.

But statistics show that BAME people still disproportionately come into contact with the criminal justice system, with a review by David Lammy MP revealing that black people are more likely to be jailed in the UK than US.

Several young black man have died in police custody over the past year, seeing angry protests break out in London over the deaths of Rashan Charles and Edson Da Costa within weeks of each other.

Rashan Charles protest: Riot police called to Dalston as bins are set alight

Seven people have died in police custody in England and Wales so far this year, with the total reaching 23 in 2013.

Many of the incidents remain under investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct watchdog and subject to ongoing coroners’ inquests.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said: "The UN warning comes as no surprise. The Angiolini Review ordered by Theresa May and published in 2017 stated that racial stereotyping may be a 'significant contributory factor' in deaths in custody.

"Far too many have died. And it is a disgrace that the Home Secretary has taken too few meaningful steps to address racial disparities in our justice system."

Earlier this week, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that Devon and Cornwall Police were being charged with health and safety offences over the death of Thomas Orchard, a mentally ill white man.

Three police officers and staff had previously been tried and acquitted for manslaughter after restraining him face-down with a belt around his face, leading to a cardiac arrest.

The UN’s analysis of Metropolitan Police data found that black and ethnic minority people, in particular young African and Caribbean men, were twice as likely to die after the use of force by police officers and insufficient medical treatment.

The panel said police disproportionately use Tasers against black suspects, including those with mental health problems, with ethnic minorities three times more likely to be shocked than white people.

The group reviewed deaths in a range of circumstances involving the use of force, including shootings, CS spray, batons, Tasers, and physical restraint resulting in suffocation.

“People of African descent with psychosocial disabilities and those experiencing severe mental or emotional distress reportedly face multiple forms of discrimination and are particularly affected by excessive use of force,” said the experts.

“We have raised our concerns with the government of the United Kingdom.”

It pointed to an independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, completed by Dame Elish Angiolini last year, which found that the IOPC’s predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), was not viewed as independent of police culture and had failed to gain the trust of families.

It warned that all restraint has the potential to cause death but that training on the use of force across 43 police forces was inconsistent and must be improved, particularly for suspects with mental health problems or those affected by alcohol or drugs.

Dame Elish found there has never been a successful prosecution of a police officer for manslaughter, even when coroners handed down unlawful killing verdicts.

“This points to the lack of accountability and the impunity with which law enforcement and state agencies operate,” the experts said.

The UN said the government formally responded to its concerns last month and recognised that further improvements were needed to healthcare in police custody, inquests, legal aid and support to families.

It called for deaths in police custody to be independently reviewed and for authorities to hold police to account, combat racial discrimination, ban the use of disproportionate and excessive use of force and restraint and to ensure families get adequate help with justice and compensation.

The report came before the UN’s special rapporteur on racism starts a two week visit to the UK on Monday, to evaluate discrimination in the wake of the vote for Brexit.

“My mission across the country, including stops in London and Belfast, will focus on explicit incidents of racism and related intolerance, as well as attention to structural forms of discrimination and exclusion that may have been exacerbated by Brexit,” said Tendayi Achiume.

“Xenophobic discrimination and intolerance aimed at refugees, migrants and even British racial, religious and ethnic minorities will also be an important focus.”

The Policing and Crime Act 2017, which came into force last year, made it unlawful to use a police station to hold under-18s who are experiencing a mental health crisis if they have committed no offence, and restricted the use for adults.

New data requirements have made police forces start recording information on the use of force, reasons for it, injuries and characteristics of suspects.

UN recommendations on healthcare in police custody, inquests and support for families will be reviewed by the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody, which is to report on its progress in the autumn.

Its remit also covers deaths in police custody, prisons, immigration detention, bail hostels and psychiatric units.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government takes allegations of police racism very seriously and expects all allegations to be investigated thoroughly and perpetrators dealt with robustly.

“We are also clear that any use of force by the police must be necessary, reasonable and proportionate. Every death in police custody is a tragedy.”

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