Police custody inspection ‘positive’ but some safety concerns

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People taken into custody by Thames Valley Police were held in generally clean and well-maintained cells and were treated respectfully, inspectors found.

Despite the ‘generally positive’ picture, a joint inspection in February by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services raised some serious concerns.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: “This inspection of custody facilities in Thames Valley was generally positive.

“The force had demonstrated some progress following our last inspection, especially in health services, and could evidence positive practice.

“With respect to the significant concerns and areas for improvement we identified, we were confident that the force’s strong leadership and clear grip on performance would enable it to act effectively to address these issues.”

Overall, Thames Valley had ‘a strong and focused governance structure that provided appropriate accountability for custody’.

There was a clear commitment to providing effective custody services, with well-trained custody sergeants.

The force worked well with a range of partner agencies to divert vulnerable people from custody, though efforts to ensure that children spent as little time as possible in custody were sometimes undermined by the lack of appropriate alternative accommodation provided by local authorities.

But the force did not comply with several requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). Concerns included reviews of detention and the rousing of intoxicated detainees.

Though custody staff often de-escalated situations effectively to avoid using force, inspectors found records of the use of force were inconsistent.

Some serious safety concerns and significant risks to detainees were not managed well enough.

Shortages of staff meant cell call bells frequently went unanswered and detainee checks were not always conducted in line with observation levels set.

Strip searches were properly authorised but were not always conducted thoroughly enough.

Some detainees could retrieve concealed items while in the cell, such as drugs and other items that could cause harm, despite having been searched and sometimes while being closely watched.

Two detainees were taken to hospital after taking drugs while in custody.

Inspectors found the custody suites, in eight locations across the large force area, were generally clean and well maintained, with little graffiti, though many were too cold.

The force’s head of criminal justice, Superintendent Katy Barrow-Grint, said: “Ensuring high standards across all of the custody areas within the force is a priority.

“I am pleased that today’s report finds that our custody facilities are generally positive and that we have demonstrated progress since the last inspection.

“The inspectors said they are ‘confident the force’s strong leadership and clear grip on performance will enable the force to act effectively to address the issues that have been identified’.

“I will be reviewing the findings of the report closely and working with colleagues and partners across the Thames Valley to ensure that, where areas have been identified for improvement, we will act to address these.”