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Children as young as 12 are being held in police cells when they suffer a mental health crisis

Welsh children as young as 12 are being detained in police cells under the Mental Health Act, an investigation by In Focus for ITV Wales can reveal.

The law allows people (including children) suffering a mental health crisis to be detained for up to 72 hours in a 'safe place'. That place is defined in law as a hospital or a police cell. However cells have been used because of a lack of beds in hospital.

Watch Rob Osborne's report and comment on his Facebook page.

Sara Moseley from mental health charity Mind says progress has been made on the use of police cells but more needs to be done to find alternatives, especially more beds in hospitals.

She says the matter is increasingly urgent because the Westminster Government is bringing forward a bill to ban the use of police cells as a 'place of safety' for under 18 years olds.

It's something she welcomes but warns Wales lacks alternative places.

Since December 2015 the Welsh Government has demanded that any child or young person held in custody is reported to them as a serious incident called a 'never event'.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, In Focus asked all four Welsh police forces this question: How many people have were detained by police in a cell under the Mental Health Act in the force area?

We wanted the period 2015-July 2016 and a breakdown in ages. This is what we were told:

439
total number of adults & children held in a police cell.
12
age of the youngest person held.
77
age of the oldest person held.
12
number of under 18 year olds held in Welsh police cells in that time.

Governments, charities and the police all recognise the need to find alternatives to police cells.

There is good news, rates of young people being held in police cells has come down since 2015 but if the use of cells for this age group is to be abolished there is real concern that Wales will not have enough hospital space to meet the new demand.