Durham police custody – generally positive but concerns over mental health

Police custody in Durham was generally positive, but too many people with mental health issues were brought into custody instead of taken to health facilities, 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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Read Durham – joint inspection of police custody suites

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Durham police custody suites. The first inspection was in September 2008. For this more recent inspection, inspectors visited the following full-time custody suites: Bishop Auckland, Durham, Darlington and Peterlee, as well as the standby suites at Consett and Spennymoor.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there was a clear line of accountability and an effective management structure overseeing custody arrangements;
  • there was a management drive to make use of alternatives to custody;
  • interactions between staff and detainees were respectful and detainees said they were treated well;
  • the use of force was recorded so that it could analysed for learning and to spot trends;
  • custody suites were clean and had been refurbished, although access to showers, especially for people attending court, needed to improve;
  • initial risk assessments and risk management were good, although pre-release risk assessments were sometimes non-existent; and
  • many aspects of health care were good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • too many people who were mentally unwell were held in police cells;
  • in some instances, arresting officers took detainees to cells as a result of inadequate staffing, which should be avoided to protect both detainees and officers from allegations of coercion; and
  • access to out of hours adult services, provided by the local authority, were frequently poor, although young people were generally dealt with quickly.
  • Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

    “People who are mentally unwell should not be brought into custody as a place of safety and Durham police should work with others to ensure better access to appropriate health care facilities.

    “This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner to improve provision further. We expect our findings to be considered in the wider context of priorities and resourcing and for an action plan to be provided in due course.”

    Get the report

    Read Durham – joint inspection of police custody suites


    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 someone from a public place and take them to a place of safety – for example, a police station or health care setting. It also states clearly that the purpose of being taken to the place of safety is to enable the person to be examined by a doctor and interviewed by an approved social worker, and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
    4. This joint inspection was carried out from 12-15 May 2014.
    5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.