Border Force in England and Scotland continues to care well for detainees

Detainees held in Border Force customs custody suites at ports and airports in England and Scotland continued to be well cared for, according to an independent inspection report published today.

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Border Force – Joint inspection of police custody

Publishing the report following an unannounced inspection in May 2017, Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, found elements of the Border Force service were good. However, they highlighted some weaknesses and inconsistency arising from the “loose” national structure of the Border Force, in which regions tended to function as independent entities.

The report is the third in a programme of inspections of Border Force customs custody suites carried out jointly by the two inspectorates, covering detention at airports – Birmingham, Colnbrook (Heathrow), Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester and Stansted (closed for refurbishment at the time of the 2017 inspection) – and at Dover and Harwich ports.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said the previous inspection – in February 2015 – had found significant improvements on an earlier inspection in 2012. However, they added:

“One of our key findings (in 2017) was that there was a lack of clear communication and understanding between the central and regional tiers. This caused some confusion and led to inconsistent working practices. The problem was exacerbated by the lack of a central recording system and poor data recording locally, making it difficult for the organisation to monitor its performance accurately and identify where improvements were required.

The inspection found a low incidence of use of force and, where force was used in a small sample of cases, it appeared proportionate. However, formal structures of accountability relating to the use of force remained weak.

Previous concerns about the clothing for women held on suspicion of trafficking drugs in their bodies – relating to one-piece paper suits which left the upper body naked when lowered – were being addressed.

We were pleased to see greater efforts were now being made to ensure women detainees were treated with dignity.”

In addition, Border Force intended to pilot the use of a paper vest for this purpose at three airports.

Overall, Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said:

“Despite some weaknesses, we found that detainees held in Border Force customs custody suites continued to be well cared for and that elements of the service were good. The pace of improvement, however, and attention to our recommendations needs to be better if provision is to meet the best standards.”

Get the report

Border Force – Joint inspection of police custody


  1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  2. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  3. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies.
  4. HMICFRS will inspect all 45 fire and rescue authorities in England.
  5. This joint inspection was carried out from 2-9 May 2017.
  6. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Raymond Li (HMICFRS Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.