Christina Edkins was stabbed to death on board a bus on Hagley Road, Birmingham while on her way to school in Halesowen.
West Midlands Police are continuing to question a 22-year-old man who was arrested near the scene of the stabbing a few hours later. Police believe Christina was killed in a random attack.
Any person who randomly stabs a child to death is mentally ill, diagnosed or not. In Ruralshire, mental health provision is woeful.
People on the verge of suicide or a manic breakdown cannot access help because crisis teams are too busy or closed outside office hours. Front line police and ambulance staff have been witness to this for decades.
Now, a combination of rising demand and government cuts is leaving the services at breaking point.
A huge amount of our activity on the Ruralshire Constabulary response teams is directed at ‘keeping the lid’ on this issue ‘out of hours’. Neighbourhood police spend time assisting mental health teams and following up emergency incidents.
In my experience, most people suffering from mental health problems are not dangerous and should be regarded as patients, not criminals. But the Christina Edkins incident shows how potentially fatal any confrontation can be, and preparedness for such an attack is paramount for our unarmed police officers when they first make an approach. This ‘sets us up’ for a bad relationship with the personÂ from the very start.
I do not believe that uniformed police officers in body armour and with radios blaring are the best people to deal with someone who is suffering confusion, anxiety and fear.
I do not believe that a police station custody area, full of screaming violent drunks, disrespectful arrogant young thieves with their smirking swagger and their pompous, grinning, watch-tapping snake-oil salesmen lawyers and the general cesspool of criminal underclass present, is the best place for a mental health patient.
If anyone thinks money is being saved by ignoring mental health provision, they are mistaken. The money is spent instead by police and ambulance services. I spend many hours of my working week making decisions about how to deal with mental health issues ‘on the street’.
Many of our repeat mental health patients generate thirty or forty calls to one or more of the emergency services every week.
My team spend hours dealing personally with mental health patients, often stuck in the back of a police car when hospitals, custody areas and mental health units all deny access for a variety of reasons. I have never heard a complaint from any constable aimed at the patient.
We are not trained psychiatric nurses, so spending hours with someone who is untreated and clearly mentally ill, often locked in a cage in the back of a van, is dehumanising for both the police officer and the patient. Violent confrontation is common, but again, I have never heard a constable ever blame a patient. Very often, our intervention saves a life or facilitates medical treatment which can save a person and their family. We often counsel families who are at the point of explosion themselves.
Can you imagine how insulted we feel when we hear from the Home Secretary that our job is to ‘cut crime, nothing more’ and that our only mission is ‘crime reduction’?
This kind of statement devalues the work police have always done to maintain public order. These statements encourage a drift away from this kind of crucial work by nudging senior officers towards an obsession with petty crime statistics instead of saving lives.
It is wrong that ‘out of hours’ mental health provision is so woeful. It is wrong that so many dangerous people are released when they should be in secure treatment. But I believe that it is right that police should deal with things when they do go wrong.
We and the ambulance service are still just about the only services with 24/7 capability (what is left of it) the infrastructure (until further stations are closed) and most importantly, unlike many of our colleagues in NHS mental health units, we will not say ‘no’ and turn our backs on a desperate person in crisis.
RIP Christina Edkins, a beautiful young person, taken too early.