Death of Thurrock man in police custody highlighted in report

By Local Democracy Reporter
By Piers Meyler

THE number of people dying during or after dealings with Essex Police has increased by a third in the last year.

New data, released by the Independent Office for Police Conduct( IOPC), found a total of nine deaths in the Essex Police area in 2017/18, compared to six the year before.

IOPC

A majority of the deaths – seven – did not involve an arrest, but happened following police contact and were subject to an investigation by the IOPC or an independent investigation.

Among the incidents being investigated is how Essex Police responded to an emergency phone call leading up to the death of Suzanne Brown in Braintree on December 15.

Responding to an emergency phone call raising concerns for Ms Brown’s welfare, officers attended an address in Mountbatten Court, shortly after midnight on Saturday, December 16.

They discovered Ms Brown with 173 stab wounds wounds, from which she later died.

Jake Neate, 36, unemployed, of Mountbatten Court, was arrested at the scene and charged with murder on December 17. He is awaiting trial.

The IOPC is also investigating the death of a man who was pulled over and arrested for drugs offences before collapsing while in police custody.

Raymond Alan Knight, 55, of Western Avenue, West Thurrock, was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply on November 19 by Essex Police, but died while in custody.

A file into the death of a person who is believed to have killed himself after being detained in police custody was passed to the watchdog on September 6, 2017, before being handed back to Essex Police to be carried out internally two days later.

A police spokesman said: “Over the past 12 months there have been nine people who have sadly died following some level of contact with Essex Police. This is an increase of three on the previous year.

“On seven occasions the deaths followed incidents where the circumstances meant no arrests were made, which is indicative of the wide range of occasions where we come into contact with the public.

“We regularly review our procedures and handling of incidents where someone has died or becomes seriously injured to identify how we can learn from it and make improvements.

“The fact the IOPC has handed back many of these incidents to be investigated by our Professional Standards Department indicates there is no underlying issue with our handling of the circumstances which have unfortunately involved someone passing away.”

Nationally, police forces across the country recorded 23 deaths following custody – the highest for a decade.

There were four fatal police shootings, compared to six last year – three of them were from the Borough Market terrorist attack in London.

The number of other deaths investigated following police contact but not involving an arrest has also increased, from 132 to 170.

Commenting on the figures, IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said: ”Every death is a tragic loss for the families involved, and it is vital that each one is thoroughly investigated.

“This report sheds light on the wide array of circumstances which can culminate in police-related deaths.

“As the first director general of the IOPC, I am determined that we raise awareness of these cases.

“It is important that we help police and other agencies learn lessons from our investigations to prevent future deaths, and that we hold the police to account where they act improperly.

“Numbers across the categories of deaths fluctuate year on year, and care needs to be exercised in considering them against a backdrop of the numerous interactions the police have with the public each year.

“The rise in deaths in police custody this year, which includes at the point of arrest, in transit, in cells or in hospital, is concerning viewed against a trend of falling numbers over the last decade.

“Each of these tragic deaths is subject to investigation and we await formal causes of death for most of them.

“What is clear is that many present a complex and challenging set of factors, with links to drugs and alcohol and mental health concerns being very prevalent among those who have died.”

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