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NEWS > 10 September 2008

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10 September 2008
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Thousands of mentally ill peop

More than 11,500 people with mental health problems were assessed in police custody under the Mental Health Act over the course of a year - twice the number that were taken into hospital.

Ian Bynoe, the commissioner of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which discovered the figure, said it was "intolerable".

Police are empowered by the Mental Health Act to take someone suffering from mental problems and in need of control to a "place of safety", where they can be checked by a doctor and social worker.

Hospitals are considered preferable and police custody should be used only in exceptional cases. However, the IPCC study has found that police cells are being used as the primary destination.

Mr Bynoe said: "Police custody is an unsuitable environment for someone with mental illness and may make their condition worse.

"The continued use of cells not only diverts police resources from fighting crime, but criminalises behaviour which is not a crime."

Significant regional variations were found by the report. While only one per 10,000 people taken into police custody in Merseyside and Cheshire were detained under the Mental Health Act, in Sussex the figure was 277.

A spokesman for Mind, the mental health charity, said: "We've been told anecdotally that police feel under-resourced and under-trained to deal with mental health issues, and the report highlights the need for mental health awareness training."

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