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.”

Acting Detective Chief Inspector John Bonner, Cleveland Police Directorate of Standards and Ethics said:

"All forces are duty bound to report death or a serious injury following police contact to the IOPC who then decide if an independent investigation is required. 

"The threshold for serious injury can be anything from a broken finger to a tooth knocked out to what we would classify as a serious assault or one resulting in life changing injuries.

"Cleveland Police’s Directorate of Standards and Ethics runs a 24/7/365 rota so that we can take immediate action to notify the IOPC of an incident - no matter what time of day or night.

"Furthermore our work on education and prevention to our officers at all levels has been noted by the IOPC - to the extent that other UK forces often contact Cleveland Police for advice.

He provided the following background in relation to the cases referenced in the IOPC report, saying:

"We have one on-going live IOPC independent investigation following a voluntary referral by Cleveland Police to the IOPC. 

"This follows the murder of a Cleveland woman and as inquiries are on-going it would be inappropriate to give any further detail or commentary at this time.

"In relation to the independent investigation relating to both Cleveland and Cheshire Police (predominantly the latter force) following a man’s suicide– this IOPC investigation concluded in 2018 and did not identify any matters of conduct.

"Regarding another man’s suicide following his arrest, the matter was referred to the IOPC who determined the matter did not need any further oversight or investigation.  Cleveland Police’s Directorate of Standards and Ethics did, however, conduct further investigation into our response and that investigation concluded with no issues of conduct identified.

"Finally in another case of a man taking his own life after some time in custody, a local investigation took place and no issues of conduct were identified at its conclusion.

"Cleveland Police identified learning points in some of these processes and they have been incorporated into how we deal with those arrested and on how we work, particularly with people known to be vulnerable and the specialist services which can also support them."