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Family of Toni Speck renew calls for safety unit to prevent more deaths in police custody
THE sisters of a York mum-of-one who died in custody have called for swift action to stop people with mental health problems being detained in police cells.
Before her death, she had expressed worries about being taken into police custody in the event of a breakdown, her family said.
Toni’s sisters, Michaela Peters and Dawn Atkinson, who both live in York, have called for a “place of safety” unit to be set up urgently for mentally unwell and vulnerable people in need of immediate care.
North Yorkshire is the only area in the country without a designated place of safety unit, so many people are detained in police cells.
The delays in setting up the NHS unit, planned for Bootham Park Hospital, are putting lives at risk, North Yorkshire Police and City of York Council have said.
Michaela and Dawn said their father, Stuart Speck, had spoken of the importance of a place of safety before he passed away in November.
Michaela said: “Our dad said if this became a reality, at least Toni did not die in vain.
“That is no way for anyone’s child to go. For any family of a person with mental health issues, it’s vitally important this is put in place.
“Toni had only been out of Bootham Hospital for a few months. They knew her and her history. All the staff knew her.
“If the place of safety unit had been in Bootham she would not have had to travel in the back of a police van to the police station.
“Anybody who has mental health problems and is arrested – even though they may not have done anything wrong – is going to be frantic. Staff at the hospital know what to do in that situation.”
The sisters said they have met police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan, who shares their concerns.
Dawn said the family always felt they were fighting “red tape” when they needed urgent help for their sister. She said funding issues had delayed the new unit but said: “Can you put a price on a life?”
Toni’s family is still waiting to learn the findings of an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation and for the conclusion of an inquest into her death.
Earlier this month, the lack of a place of safety unit was branded “criminal” by city council chief executive Kersten England, who said there was an “insufficient response to mental health” in North Yorkshire.
A spokesman for Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said a place of safety unit was planned for Bootham Park Hospital and said it was working with NHS North Yorkshire and York to get work commissioned.