UN to Investigate Death of Black Persons in British Custody

Black Britain
Black men who have died in British custody

Black deaths in British custody and Stop and Search are among subjects to feature at the forefront of a seminar attended by experts from the United Nations (UN), who are now in the UK to gather data on African people’s experiences in England and Wales.

The UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent will be in the UK from Oct 1 until Friday Oct 5.

They will be at a civil society seminar in central London entitled Black People’s Experience of Justice in England and Wales in which organisations will update them on issues facing people of African descent who live in Britain.

Organised by race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust and the Open Society Justice Initiative, the seminar will hear from organisations such as death in custody lobby group INQUEST and Black Mental Health UK (BMHUK).

BMHUK’s director Matilda MacAttram said: “With detention rates under the Mental Health Act at their highest rate since people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities having been living in this country, BMH UK welcomes the opportunity to bring the treatment of mental health service users by the police and the issue of deaths in custody to the attention of the UN delegation.”

MacAttram continued: “We know that 50 percent of people who lose their lives in police custody are mental health service users, and Black people are over represented among this group.

“We welcome the international focus on the injustices faced by this vulnerable group as this is one the most pressing areas where there is a need for urgent change.”

The UN delegation is expected to travel to other parts of the UK such as Liverpool on a fact finding mission to hear more of the experiences of people of African descent living there.
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London police
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Other subjects expected to be discussed include racial violence, Black over representation in prison and diversity in the workplace.

INQUEST also released a report highlighting serious flaws in the learning process following an inquest into a death in custody or following contact with state agents.

In its report,entitled Learning from Death in Custody Inquests: A New Framework for Action and Accountability , INQUEST said its analysis reveals a series of trends and patterns that show that the same issues are consistently identified as possibly contributing to the death.

“These include such issues as failures in communication and recording procedures, healthcare treatment and resources, treatment of those identified as being at risk of self harm, training, cell design, and mental health issues among others,” the group said.

It added: “Learning is lost by: the inconsistent approach by coroners to the use of their powers to report matters of concern to the relevant authorities; the lack of analysis, publication and dissemination of the reports or narrative verdicts across custodial sectors and the lack of transparency and accountability of the detaining agencies about action taken to rectify identified and dangerous systemic problems.

“This presents an overwhelming case for the creation of a new mechanism in the form of a central oversight body tasked with the duty to collate, analyse critically, publish and report publicly on the accumulated learning from coronial narrative verdicts and rule 43 reports and a more co-ordinated response by the regulation investigation and inspection bodies once an inquest has taken place.”


By; Trudy Simpson