POLICE changed their policy for assessing the risks prisoners pose to themselves after a Swindon man killed himself less than two hours after leaving their custody, an inquest heard.

Michael Spencer of Grantham Close, Freshbrook, told officers at Gablecross Police Station he was suicidal after he assaulted wife Wendy at their West Swindon home, Oxfordshire Coroner's Court heard.

This suicidal fact was logged onto his custody record which was placed in a red folder to signify he was a vulnerable person, Oxfordshire Coroner Nicholas Gardiner said.

Depressed Spencer, 39, who had overdosed on painkillers and also self-harmed in the weeks leading to his death, was placed in a cell monitored by CCTV.

The dad-of-two was charged with common assault and released on police bail at 2pm on July 16, in 2006.

No health care professional was called to assess his state of mind as custody sergeants and detention officers said he was “quiet” and “compliant” and didn’t cause them any welfare concerns.

But by 3.45pm he was run over and killed on the A420 near Shrivenham, said Mr Gardiner.

Now a pre-release risk assessment sets out more rigidly the questions custody staff need to ask if a prisoner is considered a threat to himself, said Duty Inspector Antony Ducker of Swindon Police.

This comes after Mr Ducker reviewed the process by which prisoners are released from police custody.

Giving evidence yesterday, he said: “There has been an overwhelming increase in the number of referrals to the healthcare profession in the amount of people who make indications of self-harm and suicide.

“So much so this was causing financial strain.

“The questions on the pre-release risk assessment are set. It asks the detainees how they are feeling.

“It forces one’s hand to ask - Nothing is overlooked.”

This was done in paper form before being transferred to the computer system, added Mr Ducker.

Custody Sergeant Julian Law described Spencer as “unremarkable” who gave him “no concerns” while he was in custody.

Mr Law admitted he didn’t know it was an obligation of his role to read prisoners’ custody records as this had not been made clear during his training.

When asked if he should have read it by solicitor Sean Horstead, representing Mrs Spencer, Mr Law replied: “In hindsight yes.”

He also said it didn’t think Spencer was confused by the bail conditions set out to him as this was Spencer’s first time in custody.

These were that he couldn’t see his wife Wendy, he couldn’t pass any messages on to her through friends and family and he could make one visit home but this had to be with a police officer.

These conditions had to be adhered to before Spencer attended court.

Mr Law told Spencer his brother-in-law Michael Titcombe had rung for him and passed on his phone number.

But he said Spencer didn’t ask to call Mr Titcombe, who rang the station earlier that day to warn police Spencer was “unstable”.

Mr Law said Spencer hadn’t been confused in thinking the bail conditions meant he wasn’t allowed to talk to any family members.

Had he asked to use the phone then Mr Law said he would have allowed it and Spencer could have arranged to be collected by Mr Titcombe from Gablecross.

Spencer’s antidepressant medication were not recorded on his custody records, it also emerged. Detention officer Stewart Wakeman said was an “oversight.”

The inquest continues on Tuesday next week.