Durham Police custody – caring and respectful detention but under-staffing remains a cause for concern

Criminal justice inspectors found positive features in Durham Police custody suites, including a respectful attitude to detainees and a strong focus on keeping children out of custody.

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Durham Police – Joint inspection of police custody

However, inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Service also raised concerns, including shortage of staffing hindering effective management of suites and poor conduct of reviews of detention.

Shortage of staffing had been raised as a recommendation for improvement at the previous inspection, in 2014. When inspectors returned in July 2019 they found that staff were working in suites that were kept clean but were dated and in need of positive refurbishment.

Among positive findings, inspectors noted that the force worked well with partners to keep children and vulnerable adults from entering custody and the criminal justice system. Many forces inspected have struggled to find alternative local authority accommodation for children detained and refused bail but Durham, inspectors noted, had recently improved in this area.

Inspectors also noted: “Despite custody staff being under significant pressure at times, they showed a respectful and caring attitude to detainees. This helped to mitigate the inability always to meet detainees’ needs promptly, and the impact of some of the poor physical conditions in suites.”

However, inspectors raised staff levels as a cause for concern: “Custody staff were often stretched and unable to carry out all the tasks required or meet detainee needs promptly – for example, detainees waiting longer than necessary to be released.

“This was compounded by a lack of day-to-day supervision in the suites. The staffing arrangements were not sustainable for delivering custody services in the future and to achieve the outcomes expected for detainees.”

There were two other causes for concern. The force’s performance management of custody was limited, with gaps and inaccuracies in the recorded data and no routine monitoring of key areas of performance. Performance management had been a recommendation for improvement in 2014.

The force was also not consistently meeting the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) or those of PACE code C. This related to reviews of detention. Reviews, inspectors concluded, “were poorly conducted and recorded.”

Overall, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:

“There was a clear governance structure for the respectful and safe delivery of custody, to provide oversight at strategic and operational levels. The force had made progress since the last inspection, although it had not addressed two areas where we made recommendations, which we have identified in this inspection report as causes of concern.”

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Durham Police – 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 services in England.
  5. This report is part of a programme of unannounced inspections of police custody carried out jointly by the two inspectorates and which form a key part of the joint work programme of the criminal justice inspectorates. These inspections also contribute to the United Kingdom’s response to its international obligation to ensure regular and independent inspection of all places of detention. The inspections look at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.
  6. This report describes the findings following an unannounced inspection between 8 – 18 2019 of custody suites in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham City and Peterlee, as well as contingency suites in Consett and Spennymoor – a total of 65 cells, with an annual detainee throughout of 10,950. Durham suites were last inspected in 2014.
  7. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.