Vulnerable man released from police custody to commit suicide
compiled from various sources
published: 4WardEver UK – October 2010
Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item
Martin Middleton, aged 23, was threatening to kill himself when the police were called to his flat in the Cross Gates area of Leeds. They arrested him for his own safety under the Mental Health Act, but an hour later he was released. The next day, 24th March 2004, he was found hanged at his flat. Mental health organisations argue that police do not have the training to care for mentally ill people, and the police say it takes up their time and resources to do a job which is not in their remit. Both agree that a police cell is “inappropriate” for the care of vulnerable people.
Whether the experience of being in a cell directly leads to the suicide, or whether the person is likely to commit suicide anyway is unknown. Campaigners argue that, either way, the vulnerable person is being failed by the system.
Keeley Middleton, the sister of Martin was later to tell an inquest that she was shocked to learn her brother had been held for only a short time despite worries he was suicidal. She was concerned that a doctor had not been called to assess her brother who had been discovered at home with a noose and suicide notes before being taken to the station by West Yorkshire Police officers.
The Mental Health Act 2007 (which received Royal Assent on 19 July 2007) amends section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to enable patients to be moved from one place of safety to another. This will mean, for example, that a person taken to a police station initially can be transferred to a more appropriate place of safety if one is available.
In most cases detainees are now taken to hospital rather than a police station. But West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff insisted he would still be writing to the force calling for officers to have a greater knowledge of their responsibilities when using the act.
The 2009 inquest heard how Martin caught a taxi to his home following his release from the police station, and was found dead the next day. The jury ruled the death was accidental as Martin was not in control of his actions due to the high level of illicit substances in his system.
The Leeds hearing was told how police are only able to detain someone under Section 136 if they are in a public place.
The coroner said he believed there to be a “void” in the Mental Health Act as officers are only allowed to detain people if they are in a public place but that it was down to parliament to make changes to the law.
Assistant Chief Constable John Parkinson, who is responsible for West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards, said: “My sympathies and thoughts are with Mr Middleton’s family and friends at this difficult time and I am sorry for what has happened to him. His death in these circumstances is tragic and something we take very seriously.
“I fully acknowledge that police cells are not necessarily the ideal place to detain people with mental health issues. Under certain circumstances, it is necessary as a short-term step to ensure the safety and welfare of vulnerable people”.
Woman angry at treatment of ‘suicidal brother’
5 September 2007
Police and mental health