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Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 16:00 GMT


Ethnic custody deaths increase

Roger Sylvester died after being detained by police

New figures show the number of black and Asian people dying in police custody rose by 50% last year.

Although the total number of people dying in police custody in England and Wales fell from 71 to 67, the number of those from ethnic minorities rose from eight to 12, or from 11% to 18%.

A quarter of all the deaths, 17, took place within the Metropolitan Police area.

Forces with the next highest figures were Lancashire and West Yorkshire with five. Nineteen forces saw no deaths in custody.

Deaths in London

Six of the deaths in London involved people from ethnic minorities - including the controversial case of Roger Sylvester, who died in hospital after being detained by police outside his home in Tottenham, north London, in January this year.

Inquest verdicts have so far been passed on 34 of the 67 deaths.

These include 13 cases of accidental death, seven of suicide, five of natural causes, four verdicts of misadventure, three involving drug abuse and two open verdicts.

'Worrying rise'

A spokeswoman for Inquest, the group which campaigns on deaths in police custody, said the 6% fall in the number of deaths overall was overshadowed by the worrying rise in ethnic minority deaths.

Co-director Deborah Cole said: "There's a disproportionate number of black and ethnic minority deaths occurring and the number is increasing. What lessons are being learned, what action is being taken?"

The Police Complaints Authority, which investigates such deaths, said: "We share the alarm at what is a large number of deaths in police custody. We would like to see that toll reduce substantially."

A spokesman said the authority had issued a series of guidelines to police to help cut deaths.

He said the police were responding and figures for this year so far showed a more encouraging fall.

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