New restraint law is a fitting legacy for Seni Lewis (The Guardian)

That the mental health units (use of force) bill became law today is fantastic news for patients and staff in mental health units across the country. This legislation aims to reduce the widespread use of distressing and potentially dangerous restraint against both children and adults, which results in thousands of injuries every year and is linked to dozens of deaths.

Aside from the physical damage, it can also have a devastating impact on patients’ psychological wellbeing, retraumatising those who have experienced violence and abuse. The act, also known as Seni’s law after Seni Lewis, who died after being excessively restrained by police officers while a patient in a mental health hospital (Report, 7 February 2017), will improve accountability in mental health units.

Women and children, particularly girls, and people from black and minority ethnic groups, are at particular risk of restraint, and this law will help understand why this happens and guard against it.

Among other key measures, it will ensure staff are given training on the impact of trauma on patients’ mental health as well as on de-escalation techniques, so that restraint is only ever used as a last resort. Ultimately, Seni’s law is a testament to the commitment of Seni’s family, who have fought tirelessly for years to bring about change, alongside his MP Steve Reed, who brought this bill to parliament.

We have been delighted to support them and this important piece of legislation, and will work to ensure it leaves the best possible legacy, so that mental health units are the caring, therapeutic environments they should be for all patients.

Jemima Olchawski
Chief executive, Agenda
Deborah Coles
Director, INQUEST
Paul Farmer
Chief executive, Mind
Emma Thomas
Chief executive, YoungMinds
Carolyne Willow
Director, Article 39
Mark Winstanley
CEO, Rethink Mental Illness
Ben Higgins
Chief executive, BILD
Mark Lever
Chief executive, NAS

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/01/new-restraint-law-is-a-fitting-legacy-for-seni-lewis

Family celebrate lasting legacy as ‘Seni’s Law’ receives Royal Assent (INQUEST)

1 November 2018

Today the Mental Health (Use of Force) Bill has received Royal Assent in Parliament, eight years after the death of Seni Lewis for whom it is intended as a lasting legacy. Known as Seni’s Law, the Bill will increase protections and oversight on use of force in mental health settings.

The Private Members Bill brought by Steve Reed MP is named after Olaseni ‘Seni’ Lewis, a 23 year old IT graduate who died as a result of prolonged restraint by police officers whilst a voluntary inpatient at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Croydon in 2010.

Steve Reed MP has worked closely with the family of Seni Lewis, who are constituents of Croydon North. He worked on this Bill with the family’s lawyer Raju Bhatt, INQUEST, and a coalition of NGOs including Agenda , Article 39, Mind, Rethink and YoungMinds.

Throughout its passage in Parliament and the Lords the Bill has received cross party support. It also led the Minister Jackie Doyle Price to make commitments to consider the issue of the lack of independent investigations into deaths in mental health settings.

In 2017 an inquest jury unanimously condemned the actions of police and healthcare staff who watched on as Seni was restrained by 11 police officers. The inquest found the force used was excessive, disproportionate, and contributed to Seni’s death. His family have welcomed the Bill as an opportunity to prevent further deaths.

On 30 October 1998, David ‘Rocky’ Bennett died following excessive restraint in a mental health unit. A public inquiry into his death recommended formal recording of the use of restraint, consideration of racial and gender discrimination, and improved training and oversight. At long last, the Royal Assent of this Bill will create a statutory duty to ensure many of the recommendations of the inquiry into this death 20 years ago are belatedly enacted.

Aji Lewis, mother of Seni Lewis said: “When Seni became ill, we took him to hospital which we thought was the best place for him. We shall always bear the cross of knowing that, instead of the help and care he needed, Seni met with his death.

It took us years of struggle to find out what happened to Seni: the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital where, instead of looking after him, they called the police to deal with him; and the brute force with which the police held Seni in a prolonged restraint which they knew to be dangerous, a restraint that was maintained until Seni was dead for all intents and purposes.

 We don’t want anyone else to go through what our son went through. That is why we have supported this initiative by Steve Reed MP which has culminated today in Seni’s Law.  We welcome it in his memory, in the hope that it proves to be a lasting legacy in his name, so that no other family has to suffer as we have suffered.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “Seni Lewis was failed by the very people that were meant to keep him safe and died a violent death after excessive restraint. The Lewis family have fought tirelessly for eight years to ensure that no one else dies in such horrific circumstances. They have been the driving force behind this bill.

High levels of restraint are routinely used behind the closed walls of secure settings inflicting physical and psychological harms and the ever-present risk of death. Disproportionately restraint is used against people from black and minority ethnic groups, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities and autism. We hope the protections of this bill and greater scrutiny and oversight will drive the cultural change and practice needed, end the abusive use of force and ensure those in crisis are treated with dignity and respect.  

This important step is not the end but the beginning. INQUEST, alongside bereaved families, will continue to work to ensure the guidance and changes arising from Seni’s Law leave the best possible legacy. There is more work to be done, but this is a momentous move in the right direction.”

Steve Reed MP, who tabled the Bill, said: “This new law will save lives and gives mental health patients in the UK some of the best protection in the world from abusive restraint. INQUEST’s support and advice has been critical in getting this change.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS
For further information please contact on 020 7263 1111 or lucymckay@inquest.org.uk

Read the full Mental Health (Use of Force) Bill here. For more information on the Bill go to: senis-law.com or Steve Reed MP’s website.

If enacted changes the Bill would make include:

  • Increased oversight and management of use of force in mental health units;
  • Improved regulation to reduce levels of force used;
  • Improved arrangements between police and mental health units, including requiring police to wear body cameras when attending these units;

INQUEST has worked on numerous disturbing cases of deaths following restraint in mental health settings, and involving the police. Currently there is no robust monitoring of incidents of force in mental health units, despite evidence which suggests there is disproportionate use against black and minority ethnic communities, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities.

Read more about INQUEST’s long held concerns about the disproportionate use of force in mental health settings, in this article in Progress Magazine: Restraint and race: it’s time we listened to the evidence.

Met officers who wrongly arrested black man put through misconduct hearings (The Guardian)

Four police officers who wrongly arrested a black man for stealing a bicycle in London when told that the suspect was white have been put through misconduct hearings.

An inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission twice overturned earlier decisions by the Metropolitan police that no investigation was necessary.

The original incident occurred in Leather Lane, central London, in February 2016 when three male police officers and a female officer were working early in the evening on a plain clothes anti-cycle-theft operation in Camden.

They were alerted that a white man wearing a light green jacket and blue jeans had stolen a silver bike in the area.

Despite the thief standing near a group of bike couriers chatting after work, the officers instead grabbed 47-year-old Andrew Okorodudu, who is black, and was wearing a grey jacket, when he joined the group on his white bike.

The officers threw him to the ground, according to his lawyers Hodge Jones & Allen, who supported him in bringing the complaint. Okorodudu was restrained with handcuffs as the thief watched and then rode off on the stolen bike.

The IPCC report criticised the Metropolitan police officers for apparently ignoring the ethnicity of the suspect in the detailed description given to them over police radio and acting with unconscious bias.

Okorodudu suffered injuries to his head, legs, knees and wrists and needed medical treatment. He eventually received a four-figure compensation settlement from the police.

Joanna Bennett, the lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen who represented Okorodudu, said: “Despite all the initiatives and training to stamp out racial bias, it clearly still exists within the police force. Despite the obvious description of the suspect as white, the first officer on the scene instead immediately targets a black man and then uses excessive force to arrest him.

“What is equally concerning is that the police’s own investigation concluded that the officers had done nothing wrong. It was only when the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] reviewed the evidence and issued a directive for a misconduct hearing that they were called to task over their behaviour.”

The officers maintained that they did not hear the description of the ethnicity of the suspect. Their claim, it was said, was undermined by records in their notebooks that included that the suspect was white.

At the misconduct hearing in November last year three of the officers were told they had no case to answer, but one officer was criticised for failing to obtain an IC code (ethnicity) which contributed to unconscious bias.

A spokesperson for the IOPC, which was formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said: “Mr Okorodudu complained to the Metropolitan police over his arrest in February 2016. After being unhappy about the outcome of two investigations into his complaint he appealed to the IOPC, which we upheld.

“In August 2017 we directed the Metropolitan police to hold misconduct meetings for four officers, following which one officer received management advice.”

Freemasons are blocking reform, says Police Federation leader (The Guardian)

Reform in policing is being blocked by members of the Freemasons, and their influence in the service is thwarting the progress of women and people from black and minority ethnic communities, the leader of rank-and-file officers has said.

Steve White, who steps down on Monday after three years as chair of the Police Federation, told the Guardian he was concerned about the continued influence of Freemasons.

White took charge with the government threatening to take over the federation if it did not reform after a string of scandals and controversies.

Critics of the Freemasons say the organisation is secretive and serves the interests of its members over the interests of the public. The Masons deny this saying they uphold values in keeping with public service and high morals.”

White told the Guardian: “What people do in their private lives is a matter for them. When it becomes an issue is when it affects their work. There have been occasions when colleagues of mine have suspected that Freemasons have been an obstacle to reform.

“We need to make sure that people are making decisions for the right reasons and there is a need for future continuing cultural reform in the Fed, which should be reflective of the makeup of policing.”

One previous Metropolitan police commissioner, the late Sir Kenneth Newman, opposed the presence of Masons in the police.

White would not name names, but did not deny that some key figures in local Police Federation branches were Masons.

White said: “It’s about trust and confidence. There are people who feel that being a Freemason and a police officer is not necessarily a good idea. I find it odd that there are pockets of the organisation where a significant number of representatives are Freemasons.”

The Masons deny any clash or reason police officers should not be members of their organisation.

Mike Baker, spokesman for the United Grand Lodge, said: “Why would there be a clash? It’s the same as saying there would be a clash between anyone in a membership organisation and in a public service.

“We are parallel organisations, we fit into these organisations and have high moral principles and values.”

Baker said Freemasonry was open to all, the only requirement being “faith in a supreme being”. He said there were a number of police officers who were Masons and police lodges, such as the Manor of St James, set up for Scotland Yard officers, and Sine Favore, set up in 2010 by Police Federation members. One of those was the Met officer John Tully, who went on to be chair of the federation and, after retirement from policing, is an administrator at the United Grand Lodge of England.

Masons in the police have been accused of covering up for fellow members and favouring them for promotion over more talented, non-Mason officers.

White said: “Some female representatives were concerned about Freemason influence in the Fed. The culture is something that can either discourage or encourage people from the ethnic minorities or women from being part of an organisation.”

The federation has passed new rules on how it runs itself, aimed at ending the fact that its key senior officials are all white, and predominantly male.

White said he hoped the new rules would lead to an end to old white men dominating the federation: “The new regulations will mean Freemasons leading to an old boys’ network will be much less likely in the future.”

White came to be chair of the Police Federation after Theresa May went to its 2014 conference and ripped into it. The federation had to decide whether it would adopt a package of 36 reforms, with May, who was then home secretary, threatening that if it failed to do so, it would be taken over by the government and forced to. The Metropolitan police federation was the only local body in the organisation, which represents rank-and-file officers, not to back a package of reforms.

In 2014 federation members felt the body that represented them was failing them and was distant.

White said the organisation had been turned around during his time in office: “We have gone from being almost irrelevant to being the trusted voice of the frontline and the service. I think we had an organisation that shouted and bawled about everything, which became irrelevant to members and risked being wound up.”

White beat the Met officer Will Riches to the chairmanship via a coin toss, after the two candidates won the same number of votes. White, who had served as a firearms officer in Avon and Somerset, came into office promising to end a culture of drinking by federation officials using members’ money.

White said more reform of policing was needed: “There should be future radical reform of the police. The 43 forces need to operate more as a single entity. We have to break down the political barriers caused by PCCs [police and crime commissioners].”

White has written a paper advocating a national body to drive through reforms and impose them on forces if necessary: “We need a new governance board at a national level to drive reforms to policing and make sure it happens.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for ethics and integrity, the chief constable Martin Jelley, said: “While we recognise that there has been concern in the past around serving officers also being Freemasons, it is clear that concern over real or perceived threat to impartiality of this has decreased. Regular external scrutiny of the police service by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has not raised this as an issue of concern.

“Strict guidelines require officers to declare anything which might be deemed a conflict of interest in their force’s register of interests. If convincing evidence ever came to light which clearly showed that Freemasonry was adversely affecting the integrity of the police service then we would take appropriate action.”

Six police cleared over death of man restrained in London hospital (The Guardian)

Damien Gayle, The Guardian

Olaseni Lewis, 23, died three days after he was restrained for more than 30 minutes by police at Bethlem Royal hospital

Ajibola Lewis, the mother of Olaseni Lewis, addresses campaigners after a procession to Downing Street.
  Photograph: Ajibola Lewis, the mother of Olaseni Lewis, addresses campaigners after a procession to Downing Street.

PC Simon Smith, PC Michael Aldridge, PC Stephen Boyle, DC Laura Curran, PC Ian Simpson and PC James Smith had denied a number of allegations of misconduct and gross misconduct over the death of Olaseni Lewis on 3 September 2010.

An inquest this year found that “excessive force, pain compliance techniques and multiple mechanical restraints” used by police on Lewis “were disproportionate and unreasonable” and were likely to have led to his death from a hypoxic brain injury and cardiorespiratory arrest.  

Assistant chief constable Tony Blaker, who chaired the disciplinary hearing at the Metropolitan police’s Empress State Building in west London said any failings by officers “were matters of performance which would fall to be dealt with by a different statutory procedure, outside the remit of this panel.”

The decision to hold the misconduct hearing without press or public in attendance has been sharply criticised by the parents of the victim.

Lewis, who was 23, died three days after he was subjected to two periods of restraint by police lasting more than 30 minutes. He had no history of violence or mental illness and had been taken to the hospital by his parents after an episode of mental ill-health that began over the August bank holiday weekend.

Although Lewis attended Bethlem Royal hospital for an overnight stay as a voluntary patient, when he tried to leave, at about 9.30pm on 31 August, a doctor called police to ask for their assistance in detaining him under the Mental Health Act.

The struggle with police attempting to lock him in a seclusion room caused the injuries that led to his death. “Mr Lewis’s behaviour changed when he was brought to the doors of the seclusion room,” said Blaker. “It is apparent that Mr Lewis was determined not to be locked in the room.”

Blaker said there was nothing the panel had heard or read to indicate that officers had used force in any way contrary to their training. He said the panel accepted the evidence of officers who said they thought Lewis was feigning unconsciousness during the restraint in an effort to escape the seclusion room that hospital staff had asked them to place him in.

Despite accepting that to onlookers “the restraint of Mr Lewis may have looked chaotic and confused”, Blaker said there was nothing to show a failure of leadership by the officers in charge, adding that in such a situation “officers can and do fulfil roles without them being assigned to them”.

Lewis’s parents, Conrad and Ajibola Lewis, watched as Blaker read out the allegations against the six officers and announced each as “not proved”. Outside, their solicitor, Raju Bhatt, read a statement on their behalf calling for a meeting with Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, to ensure lessons are learned from the tragedy.

“We had taken Seni to hospital because we thought it was the best place for him when he became ill,” the statement said. “But instead of receiving the help and care he needed, he met with incompetence, hostility and worse: from the management and staff at the hospital, who were so poorly trained that they felt it necessary to call the police to deal with him when he was agitated; and even more so from the police officers who answered that call. […]

“They held him down … in a prolonged restraint which they knew to be dangerous, until he went limp. And even then, instead of treating him as a medical emergency, they simply walked away, leaving Seni on the floor of a locked room, all but dead. That is how we lost our son.”

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, said: “Seni was brutalised, neglected and failed and yet no one person at an individual or senior management level has been held to account.

“After a seven-year wait, this is a bitter outcome for Seni’s family. We are a lesser society for a system that fails to hold to account police action leading to these preventable deaths from our community.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin, in charge of the professionalism portfolio at the Met, said the force was sorry for the loss felt by Lewis’s family and friends.

He said: “The outcome of the coroner’s inquest raised a number of important issues for the MPS, and policing nationally, to consider in relation to restraint techniques and training. I would reassure Mr Lewis’s family that over the seven years that have passed since Mr Lewis died, the way in which the Met would respond to someone in mental health crisis in a medical institute has fundamentally changed.”

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Police watchdog to hold misconduct hearing in secret over man’s death (The Guardian)

   and , The Guardian

IPCC criticised for barring press and public from disciplinary hearing of six Met officers over death of Olaseni Lewis

Scotland Yard sign Six Metropolitan police officers are accused of gross misconduct over the death of Olaseni Lewis. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

A disciplinary hearing of six police officers who have been accused of gross misconduct over the death of a 23-year-old man who died after a prolonged period of restraint seven years ago will begin in secret on Monday.

The decision to hold the IPCC hearing without press or public in attendance takes advantage of a loophole in misconduct regulations and has been sharply criticised by the parents of the victim, Olaseni Lewis.

Aji and Conrad Lewis said it was a “matter of utter shame for the IPCC, serving only to erode our confidence in that organisation or, indeed, in the police”.

New regulations implemented by Theresa May in 2015 require police misconduct hearings to be held in public, although exceptions can be made. However, because Lewis died in September 2010, this one is being held with the press and public excluded, although his family will be able to attend.

Lewis’s death came three days after he was subjected to two periods of restraint by police lasting more than 30 minutes, while in the care of Bethlem Royal hospital in south London.He had been taken to the hospital by his parents after an episode of mental ill health that started over the August bank holiday weekend. He had had no history of violence or mental illness. 

In May an inquest jury concluded that excessive force had contributed to his death. The jury identified a series of failures by police and medical staff, saying: “The excessive force, pain compliance techniques and multiple mechanical restraints were disproportionate and unreasonable. On the balance of probability, this contributed to the cause of death.”

Police failed to act in accordance with their training and recognise his acute behavioural disorder as a medical emergency, the jury added.

Justifying its decision, the IPCC said: “There is a legal presumption that this hearing should be held in private, as it predates new laws requiring the vast majority of gross misconduct proceedings to be held in public.”

The decision to hold the disciplinary hearing in private was taken in August by the IPCC commissioner Cindy Butts.

She acknowledged that “the facts of this case are undoubtedly grave”, but added that the issues were complex. She said the officers and hospital staff had been faced with very difficult circumstances. “It is also clear that the officers are not accused of wilful mistreatment, but rather a series of very serious failures to follow their guidance and training on dealing with situations of this nature.”

The Metropolitan police officers could be dismissed if the accusation of gross misconduct is upheld at the end of the hearing, which is expected to last a month. They are Simon Smith, Michael Aldridge, Stephen Boyle, Laura Curran, James Smith and Ian Simpson.

May took a personal interest in the case while she was home secretary. She ordered a key report into deaths in police custody after meeting the families of Lewis and another man.

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, which campaigns for the families of people who have died after contact with the police, said the secrecy was “misguided”. “This is a case of significant public interest and the process for holding police to account must be an open and transparent one. Justice cannot be served behind closed doors.”

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Further delays for Home Office review of deaths in custody and the treatment of victims’ families (Channel 4)

Further delays for Home Office review of deaths in custody and the treatment of victims’ families

 Senior Home Affairs Correspondent, Channel 4

A major Home Office review into deaths in custody has been delayed.

“I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families who are still looking for answers.”

The words of Theresa May, spoken when she was Home Secretary back in July 2015.

She was addressing an audience mainly of parents whose sons had died at the hands of police.

This week, many had been expecting the publication of a major review the now-Prime Minister had set up to tackle what she termed the evasiveness and obstruction which has confronted those families in their search for accountability.

But the review has been delayed. It was handed in at the start of the year. Now the Home Office do not intend to publish it for at least another two months.

So many of those who gave evidence to Dame Elish Angiolini’s inquiry were convinced to do so by Ms May’s words of intent.

Yet they’ve heard nothing since. One, the mother of Olaseni Lewis (pictured above and below) a 23-year-old graduate who suffered a restraint death in 2010, told me they have had no contact with current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.

“I would have thought she might have asked to meet us. Not heard anything,” she said.

By extraordinary timing, five of these death in custody cases arrive at some form of hearing over the next fortnight.

They are made up of three gross misconduct hearings against a total of 10 police officers from 3 different forces, a criminal trial of 3 police officers and an inquest.

They include two restraint deaths back in 2010 of men suffering mental health problems, a third who died in the caged rear of a police van after allegedly being bitten by a police dog then tasered, and another again involving someone detained under the Mental Health Act.

All bar one will be open to public scrutiny. The one involving the death of 23-year-old Olaseni Lewis, which has taken seven years to get to the point of holding Metropolitan Police officers to account, will be held behind closed doors.

It’s acknowledged at issue are allegations of ‘very serious failures’; that it is a high profile case; that there is great concern and low levels of confidence among BME communities about police treatment of mental health sufferers;  and there are grave matters here.

But not grave enough, it would seem, for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to allow proceedings to take place in public.

So If Theresa May’s review was part of her social justice mission, then there is a real risk it will be too late to have any real meaning.

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Blame the Home Office if another black person dies in police custody (The Guardian)

Stafford Scott, The Guardian

Many families have sought to understand exactly why a loved one has died while in the custody of the police. The failure of the Home Office to release the long overdue report by Dame Elish Angiolini into such deaths is appalling.

According to the justice charity Inquest, since 1990 there have been 1,061 deaths in custody with barely a handful of prosecutions of any police officers involved. (I have supported a number of families in their quests to find answers). Needless to say there have also been no convictions of a police officer implicated in these deaths, even though several inquest juries have delivered verdicts of unlawful killing.

The still unpublished report, which the Guardian has seen, says that there is “evidence of disproportionate deaths of black and minority ethnic people in restraint-related deaths.” And according to a statement from Inquest: “Black people are disproportionately more likely to die following the use of force by police.”

Had the Angiolini report been published in the summer of 2016 – as promised by the then home secretary, Theresa May – and its recommendations acted upon, there is a possibility that lessons would have been learned that would have made deaths like that of Rashan Charles last July – while being apprehended by police – less likely: video footage shows the 20-year-old being wrestled heavily to the ground by a uniformed officer.

We will never know, sadly, but what we do know is that since May left the Home Office there has been a change in position. Rather than seeking to hold the police to account, the Home Office now appears to be giving ever more support to whatever the police wish to do, particularly with the black community. It was only last month that the home secretary, Amber Rudd, backed the Met police’s increase in stop-and-searches on young black youths.

For those of us who have been engaging with such issues for a long time, we know that this will not lead to less knife crime. More unnecessary stop-and-searches will only lead to a further loss of confidence in the police from the black community. The same goes for the failure to release the Angiolini report.

It really is no surprise that relationships between the police and black communities across the country are at an all-time low. Black people are at least four times more likely than white people to be stop-and-searched; twice as likely to be Tasered; twice as likely to be arrested and charged; more likely to be convicted and to receive longer custodial sentences. Black people are even more likely, especially black women, to have the “spit hood” used on them by police.

The home secretary should be holding the police to account instead of covering their backs by not releasing this critical report. Families who lost loved ones at the hands of the police may not have received what they considered to be justice through the courts, but they would want to know that there has at least been some institutional learning from their losses – that this won’t happen to anyone else again.

Rudd’s reluctance to give them that meagre sense of justice is truly baffling – and while she sits on this report, the likelihood that someone else will die in police custody increases. Should this happen then the blood trail will lead all the way up to the Home Office, and the home secretary herself.

 Stafford Scott was a co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign in 1985, and is now a consultant on racial equality and community engagement

It’s time for police to admit their mistakes (New Statesman)

Already this summer, four people have died after contact with the police. At least three of them were black men who died following police restraint. Last Saturday, 20-year-old Rashan Charles lost his life after being pinned to the floor of a convenience store, and restrained by an officer and another person in plain clothes.

These deaths aren’t included in the latest annual report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which covers the year ending 31 March 2017. But the deaths of Rashan, Edir Frederico da Costa, Darren Cumberbatch, and a 16-year-old boy, who died in a crash during a police pursuit, recall those who have lost their lives during or following police contact in the months preceding them: Mzee Mohammed, Dalian Atkinson, Mohammed Yassar Yaqub.

Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, there were 32 road traffic fatalities involving police, an increase from the previous year and the highest since 2008-09. In the same period, there were 55 fatalities from “apparent suicides following police custody”. Six people died from “police shootings”, the highest since 2007/08. Fourteen people died “in or following police custody”, and there were 124 “other deaths following police contact” independently investigated by the IPCC.

“Deaths in or following police custody” is not as high compared to other categories, however deaths that happen while a person is being arrested or taken into detention are some of the most controversial. That there was no reduction in the number who died in or following police custody, compared to the previous year, suggest past mistakes are being repeated and systemic failures persist.

Over half of the 14 deaths were of people with schizophrenia, depression or self-harming or suicidal tendencies. Similarly, two thirds of the 124 who died following other police contact had mental health issues.

The most common reason for this other type of police contact was related to the safety or wellbeing of those who lost their lives. Twenty-six people died from the police responding to their health, injuries, intoxication, or a “general” incident, while 23 people died from the police responding to a concern about their self-harm, risk of suicide, or mental state. Of these 23 people, 35 per cent were black and minority ethnic (BME).

The individual stories show an even more disturbing picture than the raw numbers. Officers often encounter people with mental health conditions, yet treat them as criminals. In the case of Mzee Mohammed, he remained in handcuffs even when he finally received medical care. The police should be called as a last resort to deal with someone having a mental health crisis, but in many cases of deaths in custody, evidence shows they take it upon themselves to intervene.

In 2014, Staffordshire police handcuffed and detained Darren Lyons, who had a history of mental illness and alcohol dependency, instead of getting him medical help. An inquest heard he died after being left half-naked on a cell floor, covered in his own faeces. Similarly in 2012, Thomas Orchard was left lying unresponsive, after being put in restraints and having an emergency response belt wrapped around his face.

Although the police do not have the expertise of mental health workers, they are trained in using force proportionately, reasonably and when necessary. Members of the public experiencing a mental health episode have complex needs and it can be hard to understand the condition they are suffering from to provide appropriate assistance. This is a challenge for police officers, however using force can exacerbate a situation and even lead to death. In 2016, Dalian Atkinson, at the time suffering a mental health crisis, died after being Tasered and physically restrained by West Mercia officers.

The charity Inquest reports that the majority of its police-related cases in recent years “have involved the death of vulnerable individuals in some form of mental health crisis”. Its analysis in November 2016 of deaths in police custody since 1990 suggested that the “use of force/restraint is more likely to be a feature of the circumstances of BME deaths in police custody” and “the proportion of BME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in white deaths in custody”.

Earlier this year, an inquest jury criticised the Metropolitan Police for excessive, unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate restraint on Olaseni Lewis, a 23-year-old black man, who died in 2010 at a psychiatric hospital.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, drew attention to the fact that the “evidence heard at this inquest begs the question of how racial stereotyping informed Seni’s brutal treatment”. Met officers, instead of attending to Seni’s welfare, left him once he was unresponsive after prolonged restraint, because they believed that he may have been “faking it”. This disregard of a black life recalls the institutionally racist death of Roger Sylvester in 1999.

Seni’s case was pivotal in leading to the independent review into deaths in police custody, conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini QC. The publication has been postponed, on many occasions. The delay follows a common experience bereaved families constantly have with the police, the IPCC and the Crown Prosecution Service in their struggle for justice.

Despite deaths related to Tasers, spit hoods and firearms, the police have recently called for increases in such equipment and weapons. The Police Federation say they are necessary to protect the protectors. But the protectors are not protecting everyone.

The figures and individual stories show that some officers are threats to vulnerable people, in particular those with mental health issues and from ethnic minorities. Forces have failed to implement recommendations, while the CPS has failed to prosecute unprofessional and abusive police officers. “The officers involved in the restraint have not been able or willing to offer any word of condolence or regret in their evidence,” Seni’s parents responded after the inquest into their son’s death.

To prevent more needless lost lives, the police must first take responsibility and admit their mistakes.

Carson Cole Arthur is policy and communications co-ordinator at the campaign group StopWatch. He is writing in a personal capacity

Father accuses authorities of delaying inquest into son Olaseni Lewis’s police restraint death at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham (Croydon Guardian)

The father of a graduate who died after being restrained by police at a psychiatric hospital has accused authorities of trying to delay an inquest into his son’s death.

Olaseni Lewis, 23, never regained consciousness after being pinned down to the floor by 11 officers when he became agitated in the care of staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham on August 31, 2010.

The South Norwood IT graduate was rushed to Croydon University Hospital in a coma, but died four days later on September 3.

A senior coroner today criticised agencies involved in an inquest into his death as “disgraceful” and said they had been “disrespectful to the court and the family”.

Since his death, Mr Lewis’s family have endured more than five years of legal struggles to discover the truth about his death, including a successful High Court battle to overturn the findings of the original police inquiry.

Croydon Guardian: Loving son: Seni and his mother Ajibola

Olaseni Lewis with his mother Abijola

Last September it emerged that Devon and Cornwall Police had opened a fresh investigation into Mr Lewis’s death on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), to determine if the Metropolitan Police Service and the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) should be charged with corporate manslaughter and gross negligence.

However, his family are concerned the police probe will delay a full inquest into his death.

And at a pre-inquest hearing today, the detective leading the investigation admitted the file would not be handed over to the CPS until late next month.

Following the proceedings at Croydon Coroner’s Court, Conrad Lewis said the agencies under investigation were “definitely” trying derail the inquest into his son’s death.

He added: “It’s a process that has been drawn out and it has effects on us every day – especially when people are trying to delay the issue.”

Earlier, in court, senior coroner Selena Lynch said she was “incredulous” at how slowly enquiries were progressing.

During a ten-minute grilling of a lawyer representing SLAM over issues surrounding the disclosure of documents, Ms Lynch said: “The attention to this [case] from the agencies involved has been disgraceful. It has been disrespectful to the court and the family.”

A start date for the full inquest, which is expected to last 10 weeks, has been provisionally set for January 2017 depending on the outcome of the current police investigation.

Mr Lewis, who was known as Seni, was admitted to Bethlem Royal Hospital on August 31, 2010 after two days of uncharacteristically odd and agitated behaviour following a night out with friends.

Hours later, at about 9.30pm, police were called to the hospital after staff reported Mr Lewis “causing a disturbance”.

At least 11 officers arrived and restrained the 23-year-old. During the struggle Mr Lewis “became passive” and “seriously unwell”, according to police, and an ambulance was called to take him to Croydon University Hospital.

On September 3 scans revealed the Kingston University graduate had suffered brain stem death. His life support was switched off the following day.

Following his death, his mother Abijola Lewis said: “We don’t know exactly what happened. We do know they called the police and he ended up in hospital.”

An inquiry carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2011 ruled the officers involved should not face criminal charges related to Mr Lewis’s death.

But the case was reopened in August 2013 after a successful High Court challenge by Mr Lewis’s family led to the original verdict being quashed.

In May last year the CPS revealed it would not be seeking prosecutions of the individual officers involved in Mr Lewis’s death.

At today’s hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Cavin, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said he expected the findings of the force’s investigation into possible corporate manslaughter and gross negligence to be handed over to the CPS by the end of May.

He added: “We were conscious of the desires of Mr and Mrs Lewis to ensure the speed of the investigation, and we have been in contact with them throughout.”

But the Lewis family’s counsel Dexter Dias expressed his doubts the new investigation would result in any prosecutions and stressed the importance of the long-delayed inquest.

He said: “What [Mr Lewis’s family] don’t want is for people to be rushed, and what they won’t want is for people not to be ready. But they don’t want it to be kicked into the long grass.”

Andrew Marshall, counsel for the Health and Safety Executive, said the regulator would not itself rule out seeking prosecution over Mr Lewis’s death until the end of the inquest.

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