Almost 250 Scots died while in state custody in just one year

The majority of deaths occurred while people were detained under the Mental Health Act in 2022-23.

Almost 250 Scots died while in state custody between 2022 and 2023, figures show iStock

An average of four Scots died every week while in state custody over a one-year period, research has found.

In the first of its kind report, published by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, it was revealed that 244 people died while detained between 2022 and 2023.

The report, complied by Glasgow University researchers, records as many forms of state custody as possible, from police detention, to care or mental health.

The majority of deaths – 144 – occurred while people were detained under the Mental Health Act in 2022-23.

Meanwhile, 39 people died after having contact with the police and a further 38 died in prison between September 2022 and October 2023.

And 14 looked after children died in the same period, while four died in migrant or asylum detention centres, and three people with learning disabilities and autism died in hospital.

Two people also died in police custody, according to the figures.

Over a five-year period, 1,130 people died for the same host of reasons, including 673 detained for mental health, 209 in prison and 124 after police contact.

Sarah Armstrong, professor of criminology at Glasgow University, and co-author of the report, said many of the deaths were going “unnoticed”.

“For the first time, we are able to see the number of deaths across a range of settings for which the state has responsibility,” she said.

“Every week, just in Scotland, four people die, deaths that largely go unnoticed and, by far, happen to and affect families with the least power.

“Each death is a tragedy but what makes it a public concern is the responsibility of the state for people’s care.

“Given this, one would expect robust and public methods of investigation. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case for most deaths.”

The research also found that more than three-quarters of the 22 mandatory fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) into custody deaths took longer than two years to complete, while a third took more than three years.

Research co-author, Betsy Barkas, of the University of Glasgow, said a new human rights approach must be adopted to investigate the deaths.

She said: “It is our belief that information about deaths in custody and how they are investigated should be more visible as a matter of public interest and state transparency in order to ensure these deaths no longer go unnoticed.”

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.

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