I announced on 23 July my intention to commission an Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody.
I am pleased to announce to the House that the Review will be led by Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC.
I said that the Chairman would be someone with the ability to work closely with victims, families and the police alike, and with a proven track record of being willing to ask difficult questions.
Dame Elish has all of these qualities. She was installed as Solicitor General for Scotland on 5 December 2001, and Lord Advocate on 12 October 2006. Since September 2012 she has been Principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford. In June 2015, she concluded an independent review for the Metropolitan Police Service into how they and the Crown Prosecution Service investigate and prosecute rape cases. I am grateful to Dame Elish for agreeing to take on this important work.
Police custody is fraught with complex issues. It is the place where dangerous and difficult criminals are rightly detained, where officers and staff regularly face violent, threatening and abusive behaviour, and where the police use some of their most sensitive and coercive powers. But it is also a place where, unfortunately, vulnerable people, including all too often those with mental health problems, are taken because there is no other place to go.
Thankfully, deaths and serious incidents in custody are rare. No-one – least of the police – wants such incidents to happen, and I know everyone involved takes steps to avoid them. When such incidents do occur, they are a tragedy that has the potential to undermine the relationship between the public and the police.
As Home Secretary, I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers. That is why I believe we need to do more, and why I announced the establishment of this Independent Review.
I can also inform the House of the Terms of Reference of the Review. They will be:
- To examine the procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody, including the lead up to such incidents, the immediate aftermath, through to the conclusion of official investigations. It should consider the extent to which ethnicity is a factor in such incidents. The review should include a particular focus on family involvement and their support experience at all stages.
- To examine and identify the reasons and obstacles as to why the current investigation system has fallen short of many families’ needs and expectations, with particular reference to the importance of accountability of those involved and sustained learning following such incidents.
- To identify areas for improvement and develop recommendations seeking to ensure appropriate, humane institutional treatment when such incidents, particularly deaths in or following detention in police custody, occur. Recommendations should consider the safety and welfare of all those in the police custody environment, including detainees and police officers and staff. The aim should be to enhance the safety of the police custody setting for all.
Furthermore, I can announce that INQUEST – an organisation that has long campaigned on these issues – has agreed to have a formal role in the Review to ensure that the voices of families who have lost loved ones in police custody are heard. Therefore I am also pleased to announce that INQUEST's Director, Deborah Coles, will be a Special Adviser to the Chairman of the Review.
In addition, INQUEST shall:
- Facilitate family listening days so that the Chairman can hear evidence first-hand from those who have lost loved ones in police custody to ensure their views are taken into account.
- Play a leading role on an advisory board which will offer expert advice to the Chairman during the course of the review.
I wish Dame Elish every success as she delivers this important review.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords