AT least six people killed themselves after being held in custody by North-East police forces last year.
Those thought to have committed suicide were among 15 who died in our region following police contact, according to new figures from the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
The death of much-loved grandfather Paul Collinson is among the other cases said to have had a tragic and lifelong impact on families, friends and officers involved.
The 54-year-old was killed last September after being hit by a car that had been involved in a police chase through Newcastle.
Mr Collinson died and others were injured when the vehicle veered off the road and ploughed into pedestrians before smashing into the corner of The County pub, in the Walker area of the city.
While the number of deaths linked to contact with North-East forces has dropped slightly since 2017/18, the IOPC’s annual report said six people died following contact with Northumbria Police, four who had had contact with Cleveland, four with North Yorkshire and one with Durham Constabulary.
Forty per cent of those deaths related to apparent suicides, while two died in or after being held in custody and one as a result of a road traffic incident linked to police pursuit. The remainder of cases were described as ‘other’.
Nationally, there were at least 262 deaths following police contact, with last year seeing the highest number of fatalities from such road traffic incidents in a decade and the third-highest figure for fatal police shootings in the UK since 2008/9.
Of the 63 people who were believed to have killed themselves following a spell in custody, 21 of those had been detained on suspicion of sex offences and 16 over violent crimes.
IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said it was of critical importance to analyse the circumstances of each death to ascertain whether lessons could be learned.
He said the figures should be thought of within the context of the hundreds of thousands of interactions had between police and public each year.
However, Mr Lockwood raised concern over the ‘high proportion’ of people dying during or immediately after custody who were vulnerable because of their mental health or problems with drugs or alcohol.
Describing the problem as a “system-wide issue” that was unsurprising when considered against a backdrop of rising drug deaths and pressures on mental health services, he said the figures highlighted a need for all officers to have up to date training in recognising and managing vulnerabilities.
Maria Taylor, head of professional standards at North Yorkshire Police, said: “A very robust system is in place for recording and reporting deaths following contact with the police, and all such incidents are thoroughly investigated.
“All deaths following police contact have a tragic and lifelong impact on the family and friends of those who have died, as well as the police officers and staff involved.”
A spokesperson for Northumbria Police said: “We take the death of anyone during or following contact with Northumbria Police extremely seriously and in such cases a thorough investigation is carried out to identify if there are any lessons which can be learned.
“It is important that such figures are not looked at in isolation, as a wide range of incidents are incorporated under the definition.”