TWO people have died in the custody of Thames Valley Police (TVP) in the last year – making it the first time since the turn of the decade that more than one death has been recorded in a year.

Nationwide figures, from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), show a significant rise in such deaths around the country - and throw into question a previous TVP claim that no one had died in their custody in Oxfordshire since 2013.

Statistics suggest eight people have died in the force’s custody since 2004/05, with this year being the first time any death has occurred since 2013/14.

One of the two people this year, Leroy Medford, died in Berkshire. The other is Nuno Cardoso, who died in the back of a police van near Abingdon in November.

The Oxford Mail recently used a Freedom of Information request to ask ‘how many people had died in custody of TVP in Oxfordshire’ since 2013.

A month later the force responded that it ‘held no information regarding the request’. But after further questions, it clarified the response, writing: “The force holds no information as no one has died in police custody in Oxfordshire (since 2013).”

Yet 25-year-old Mr Cardoso’s death, in the early hours of November 24, is classified as being in police custody – both by the IOPC and now by TVP.

Despite the original request making no reference to custody ‘suites’, a TVP spokesperson said: “The response to the FOI request was based on deaths which have occurred in police custody suites in Oxfordshire.

“As the death of Mr Cardoso occurred in a van, i.e. not in a custody suite, it was not included in the response to the previous enquiry.

“However, it is correct to say that Mr Cardoso died in police custody, which is why it has been included in these IOPC figures.”

Mr Cardoso,a student from Ruskin College, was being taken to Abingdon in a police van following an arrest for assault when he suffered a cardiac arrest. The drivers pulled into Redbridge Park and Ride and he was taken to the John Radcliffe, where he was pronounced dead.

An investigation into his death is ongoing, meaning TVP will not comment further.

Nationwide, the number of deaths rose from 14 last year to 23 this. Thames Valley have only recorded deaths in six years since 2004, with 2009/10 being the only other time two were recorded.

There has been dispute about what constitutes ‘custody’, but a 2018 report by the IOPC – previously known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission – defines ‘deaths in police custody’ as including ‘deaths that happen while a person is being arrested or taken into detention… The death may have taken place on police, private or medical premises, in a public place, or in a police or other vehicle’.

National campaign group INQUEST, which describes itself as ‘the only charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation’, said the force’s response to the Oxford Mail was ‘alarming’ and ‘concerning’.

Talking about the nationwide rise in deaths, the Professional Standards Liaison at Thames Valley Police Federation, Rob Baker, said: “There are a complex and challenging set of factors involved and links to alcohol and drugs.”

Three prominent national cases - Rashan Charles, Shane Bryant and Edson Da Costa - were not included in the figures.