A senior Scottish lawyer has been appointed to lead the Independent Review Into Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, the Home Secretary has announced.
Dame Elish Angiolini
Dame Elish Angiolini will chair the review that will examine why there has been a rise in deaths in the year to March 2015 and to identify lessons to prevent similar incidents.
Deborah Coles, Director of the charity Inquest, has been appointed special adviser to Dame Elish.
Home Secretary Theresa May launched the review in July on the same day as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) published annual statistics on deaths in police custody, showing that in 2014/15, there were 17 deaths in or following police custody, a rise from 11 for the previous year and the highest figure for five years.
She said: “Sadly, as these figures show, deaths and serious incidents in custody may be rare, but they do happen. And when they do, for the families involved who have lost loved ones, all too often the system doesn’t work the way you would expect.”
The review’s terms of reference are:
•To examine the procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody, including the lead up to such incidents, the immediate aftermath, and the conclusion of official investigations. Including the extent to which ethnicity is a factor in such incidents;
•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; and
•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.
During the review Inquest will facilitate family listening days so that the Dame Elish can hear evidence from those who have lost loved ones in police custody – ensuring their views are taken into account.
The charity will also sit on the advisory board, which will offer guidance to the chair throughout the review.
Earlier this year, Dame Elish produced a report examining how the Metropolitan Police Service and the Crown Prosecution Service investigate and prosecute rape.
From 2006 until 2011 she held the position of Lord Advocate of Scotland – equivalent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales. Prior to that she was the country’s Solicitor General.
She also has extensive experience in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
Mrs May said: “When I announced this review, I said the chair 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.
"Thankfully, deaths and serious incidents in custody are rare. And no one - least of all police officers - wants such incidents to happen, and I know everyone involved takes steps to avoid them. But when such incidents do occur, they are a tragedy that has the potential to undermine the relationship between the public and the police.”
Dame Elish said: "This is a matter of critical importance to many families and I hope that this review can identify pragmatic and effective responses to this longstanding issue."