An inquest by the Independent Police Complaints Commission is currently underway into the police handling of 17 year-old Kesia Leatherbarrow, who committed suicide hours after being released from custody.

Miss Leatherbarrow was arrested on 30th November 2013 in Hyde, Greater Manchester. After breaking a window trying to visit a friend at a residential care home for people with a past of substance addiction, the police were called and a small amount of cannabis was found in her possession.

She was detained in police cells for an entire weekend over two nights and three days, during which time Miss Leatherbarrow became very distressed. She beat her head against the wall, tore at her hair and repeatedly threatened to commit suicide. After being called to Tameside Magistrates Court on 2nd December, she was placed on bail as the court could not try her as an adult. She was told to return the next day for the juvenile court, but had hung herself hours after being released in a friend’s garden in Dunkinfield.

Miss Leatherbarrow was very vulnerable, with a history of mental health troubles and self-harm and had previously spent five weeks in a psychiatric ward. Just a month before her death, she was arrested for threatening suicide and self-harm on a charge of breaching the peace where she was also kept in police cells overnight. After being released, she threatened to take her own life and the police had to remove her from a motorway bridge.

The inquest is intended to shed light on how Miss Leatherbarrow’s case was handled by the police. Despite being held for an entire weekend, her mother was never informed of her arrest. Although nurses did check Miss Leatherbarrow while she was in custody, no mental health assessment was carried out, nor were any health or social service professionals called. Miss Leatherbarrow even informed her arresting officers that she should be released to a hospital because of her suicide risk, but her request was ignored.

Miss Leatherbarrow’s case follows two other instances of 17 year-old’s committing suicide after being arrested and detained in police cells, both also in Manchester. Joe Lawton committed suicide after being arrested for drink-driving in 2012, while Eddie Thornber killed himself after being arrested for possession of 50p worth of cannabis in 2011. In both cases, their parents only found out about their arrests after their suicides. Although Miss Leatherbarrow is the only case with a history of mental illness, all three instances show the consequences of a legal loophole allowing a police station to be the only part of the criminal justice system where a 17 year-old can be treated as an adult.

The charity Just For Kids Law are campaigning for the government to fix this and ensure that vulnerable young people are given the protection they are legally entitled too. Although the Home Office had promised to take action before Miss Leatherbarrow’s death, it failed to put this into practice, despite high court rulings charging them to do so. It is hoped that the inquest will both finally bring change and highlight deficiencies in the ways the police handle cases involving vulnerable people with mental health difficulties.

Miss Leatherbarrow’s mother said: “we are devastated as a family and we hope that the inquest will provide some answers to allow us to come to terms with this terrible tragedy.”

If you or your family have been subject to traumatic conditions due to the police or government bodies neglecting mental health conditions, contact Beecham Peacock today. We can help you hold those responsible to account for neglecting people in vulnerable conditions.

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