More than 200 children, some as young as 12, were held in police cells while suffering mental health crises last year, because of a lack of suitable hospital beds, figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal.

Police in England and Wales detained 202 vulnerable under-18s under the Mental Health Act, some for more than two days, despite widespread condemnation of the practice. Hampshire police held a 17-year-old girl for 63 hours and 40 minutes, while Nottinghamshire police held a 16-year-old girl for 52 hours.

Responding to the figures, Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: “It is quite unacceptable that anyone suffering from a mental health condition, especially a young person, should treated as a criminal.

“Nothing could be more damaging to the mental health of a young person than to be left isolated, unprotected and feeling they have done wrong, when they are suffering from mental illness. They are afraid, sometimes they are handcuffed, they have no means of contacting people and they are put into a cell alongside people who may be drunk or violent.”

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