Fatal overdose of mentally ill man held in police custody
By Will Smith
Police have been criticised by the official watchdog after a young man with mental health problems died of a drug overdose apparently taken whilst in custody it was reported in the Guardian today.
The young man was Andrew David Sheppard, 22. He had been detained under the Mental Health Act and died after spending a night in a cell at the central police station in Newport, South Wales.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said individual officers had failed and Gwent police’s custody practices of the time needed to be revised.
The IPCC commissioner for Wales, Tom Davies, said ‘Andrew Sheppard was a very troubled young man. On the day he was eventually detained by the police for his own safety, both he and his family had sought help He was taken to hospital by his family but then decided himself to leave.’
‘Once Mr. Sheppard had been detained by the police and taken to what is known as ‘a place of safety’ he was owed a duty of care by the custody staff. It was clear that he was vulnerable.’
‘Those custody staff for a variety of reasons did not keep proper records, did not check on Mr. Sheppard with the frequency that they should have done, and nor did they keep him under proper observation.’
‘We have said on numerous occasions that custody is the wrong place for somebody with mental health problems and who invariably may also have taken substances, but we accept that sometimes it is the only place available.’
‘We sought expert forensic analysis which showed that in all probability Mr. Sheppard had taken drugs during the time he was in custody, which shows how poor the observation of him had been that night.’
The IPCC made eight recommendations to the force about its custody policy, which it said had been implemented since the incident in September 2006.
My personal observation on this tragic event is that things don’t seem to have changed very much. Mentally ill people are still being held in police cells for ‘their own safety’. Why is it that there is no suitable alternative to this? It would appear that Andrew Sheppard had committed no apparent offence and yet for the lack of suitable facility he was held in a cell. What a tragic waste of life.