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By Newsdesk

Tuesday, October 9, 2012.

Black Mental Health UK (BHM UK), an agency raising awareness of the high rate of deaths of Black Britons in police custody and in mental health institutions, has said that London’s Metropolitan Police’s new Commission on Policing and Mental Health is nothing more than a cosmetic exercise, which will not result in any positive change.

The accusation followed BHM UK’s exclusion from an independent commission set up by London’s Metropolitan Police to review how its officers respond to people with mental health conditions in the course of carrying out official duties in the wake of the death of Sean Rigg.

Mr Rigg (main picture), who was a Black musician and songwriter lost his life in May 21, 2008, less than one hour after he was arrested by the police. Although physically fit and healthy, Rigg was in urgent need of mental health care, when he was restrained by a team of four police officers and taken to Brixton Police Station where he died.

People from the UK’s African Caribbean communities are twice more likely to be referred to the mental health services when in urgent need of mental health care than their white counterparts. But Black Britons make up only 5 percent of UK population. Black Mental Health UK have been actively working to get see an improvement in the treatment of this vulnerable group while in custody for a number of years. The organisation’s work has also spotlighted the issue of deaths in custody has also been a major concern across this community.

Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said: “It is deeply concerning to see the exclusion of the key agencies who have a track record of working in this area, and the families affected by this issue excluded from this Commission on Policing and Mental Health. Black Mental Health UK is the only organisation in the mental health sector that has been working in the area of deaths in custody, mental health and the impact on ethnic minorities for the past few years. This is the area where the death rates and most disturbing incidences involving the police and mental health service users occur.”

Met Commissioner of Police Bernard Hogan-Howe said his organisation made the commitment to launch an independent commission in the wake of an inquest at Southwark Coroner Court. The inquest’ jurors found police handling of the death had showed an "absence of leadership".

Met Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne said: "It is clear from what the jury said and our own conclusions that the way we handled the calls about Sean's behaviour let us down and set off a series of events that resulted in him being taken ill whilst being restrained and dying in police custody.”

"Our officers deal with challenging situations every day and in this case they responded to a difficult set of circumstances."

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