Cell suit

A foam suit costing under £15 could cut the number of suicides in police custody, its
developer has claimed.

A foam suit costing under £15 could cut the number of suicides in police custody, itsdeveloper has claimed.

Since 1997 a total of 75 people have taken their own lives while in UK police cells, and many other near-misses have occurred, according to Police Complaints Authority figures.

While officers can leave the majority of prisoners in their normal clothing, they must remove belts, ties and shoelaces from those suspected of being at risk from self-harm.

But many suicides involve prisoners using items of clothing such as a T-shirt as either a ligature to strangle themselves, or by packing their mouth with material to suffocate.

The SafeSuit is an open-cell PVC foam outfit that is perforated and breaks into small squares if pressure is applied to it, such as if the wearer attempts to twist it into a rope and turn it into a ligature.

These foam squares do not stretch when twisted, meaning that the resulting length of material is much too small to twist round the neck and cause harm, said Mike Orme, director of Buckinghamshire-based SafeSuit.

‘If someone is a self-harmer you have the choice of taking away all their clothes, posting an officer on the door of their cell or taking a gamble.

‘The suit allows air through, so packing it in your mouth to suffocate yourself is impossible. The human body is also not very good at swallowing foam and the texture of this material activates the gag reflex and makes the prisoner cough, even if it is soaked in water.’ Any fresh blood shows up on the fabric immediately.

The suit is warm, recyclable and can be torn off in an emergency. It is also disposable so does not have any ongoing cleaning costs.

After arresting someone suspected of being at risk from self-harm, police have a choice of placing them under watch, which is very labour intensive, or exchanging their clothing for tear-proof fibre suits or padded overalls, both of which are expensive and can still be twisted into a noose.

Leaving the prisoner without clothing is not permitted under the Human Rights Act.Each death must be investigated in the same way as a murder, with an average cost of a £250,000. The police station’s reputation is also damaged, even if the cause of death is beyond question.

The material used for the suit can also be made into safe, disposable blankets, pillows and pillowcases. Since being launched at the ACPO international police conference last week, the suit has received interest from the UK including the Metropolitan Police, and the Malaysian police force.

It has also been endorsed by Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Medical Ethics Committee.