Cumbria police custody – a mixed picture

Some aspects of police custody in Cumbria had improved while others had deteriorated, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection. 

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Cumbria – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Cumbria police custody suites. The first inspection was in September 2009. There had been some significant improvements since the previous inspection, particularly in the condition of the custody estate and some aspects of care for detainees, but other areas had deteriorated considerably.

In 2009, custody had been a devolved function, allowing areas to manage resources and policies locally. Custody was now a centralised function, making it separate and distinct from territorial policing. This change was relatively new and needed to be embedded, and some custody staff did not understand their place in the new structure.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • detainee care was reasonable, except when custody suites were busy;
  • there was a concerted and focused effort to build relationships with health providers and a regular custody forum which included external organisations;
  • risk assessments were mostly good and in some cases excellent;
  • levels of observations set for detainee care were appropriate and handovers between shifts were focused;
  • there was good team working between custody sergeants and detention officers, ensuring a safe environment for detainees; and
  • individual interactions between health services staff and detainees were professional and clinically appropriate.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • Cumbria Constabulary did not monitor or provide performance data on custody functions and data management was not used to drive planning or performance;
  • use of force was not monitored or analysed to determine patterns or to identify where it was being used disproportionately;
  • there was poor provision of appropriate adult (AA) services to children and vulnerable adults;
  • children were subject to further delays because The Appropriate Adult Service required a referral from children’s services before an AA would attend and social workers were sometimes not available to make the referral; and
  • although there were good partnerships to try to resolve matters, detainees experienced long delays in receiving a mental health assessment in policy custody and too many mentally ill people were taken to police custody as a place of safety.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“There had been improvements in the condition of the custody estate and the care of detainees since our last inspection. Nevertheless, new management arrangements were not yet embedded and arrangements to monitor and manage performance were weak. It was a particular concern that processes to protect and safeguard the most vulnerable detainees were not fully effective.”

Get the report

Cumbria – Joint inspection of police custody

Notes to editors:

  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. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  3. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 enables a police officer to remove, from a public place, someone who they believe to be suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care and control, and take them to a place of safety – for example, a health or social care facility, or the home of a relative or friend.  In exceptional circumstances (for example if the person’s behaviour would pose an unmanageably high risk to others), the place of safety may be police custody. Section 136 also states that the purpose of detention is to enable the person to be assessed by a doctor and an approved mental health professional (for example a specially trained social worker or nurse), and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 8-12 June 2015. 
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.