GREAT strides have been made towards abolishing the heavily-criticised practice of holding adults and teenagers in police custody under the Mental Health Act as the number of detentions was nearly halved in Swindon since 2011.

Between April 2011 and March 2012, 13 young people under 18 years old were detained using section 136 of the Mental Health Act. But from April 2012 to March 2013, the figure dropped to six and since April 2013, only three young people have been detained.

As for adults, between April 2011 and March 2012, 113 were detained. During the current financial year, this number fell to 58.

The reduction in the number of young people detained is the result of officers being able to seek advice at the scene from mental health professionals, enabling them to consider all options and to take the most appropriate course of action rather than immediately defaulting to a Section 136 detention.

Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson welcomed the figure at a meeting of Swindon Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board yesterday, pledging to ensure no teenager or adult was detained under the act in future.

“It is great to see that fewer people are being held in custody for mental health issues but I have a view that it should be none,” he said.

“Last year we were down to 85 and this year to 58 but we have got some way to go. The number is small enough now that we can put in place resources to look into the journey of each individual.”

Yet Dr Peter Crouch, chairman of the Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group, felt that to do away with detentions under the Mental Health Act would not be appropriate in extreme cases.

“The number needs to be reduced but I am allergic to absolutes,” he said. “There are occasions where it is appropriate, when they are unpredictable and have committed a crime, that they should be in custody.”

People believed to be in need of ‘immediate care and control’ can be detained by police officers under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and taken to a place of safety.

A place of safety can be a hospital, police station, mental nursing home, residential home or any other suitable place.

People can be detained under the conditions of the act for 72 hours in which time police can arrange a mental health assessment for them.

A number of measures to improve the treatment of under-18s were also rolled out since between April 2012 and March 2013.

The use of police stations, deplored by many charities and organisations, as ‘safe places’ for minors, was replaced by ‘health-based’ ones such as Sandalwood Court Hospital in Swindon.

But there is still some way to go yet as under-16s currently have no health-based safety place allocated to them in the area such as a hospital and are still being held in police stations.

This state of affairs was condemned by council leader David Renard.

“We need this sorted out as of yesterday,” he said.

“There should be somewhere for under-16s.”