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Home Secretary announces chair for deaths in custody review

Home Secretary Theresa May publishes terms of reference for the independent review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody.

Home Secretary

Home Secretary Theresa May today announced that Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC will chair the independent review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody. The appointment was announced alongside the publication of the review’s terms of reference.

The review was announced by the Home Secretary during a speech on the relationship between the public and the police on 23 July.

The 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, 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.

It has also been confirmed that there will be a formal role for INQUEST, a charity that offers advice to families bereaved by death in police custody. Deborah Coles, Director at INQUEST, has been appointed as a special adviser to the chair and the charity will:

  • facilitate family listening days so that the Chair 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 Chair during the course of the review.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

I am pleased that Dame Elish Angiolini has agreed to chair the independent review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody. When I announced this review, 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.

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. As Home Secretary, I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers.

That is why I set up this independent review and I’m grateful to Dame Elish and Deborah Coles, as special advisor to the chair, for agreeing to take on this important work.

Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC 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.

Published 21 October 2015