Essex police custody – some progress in most areas

Essex Police had a strong commitment to improve its custody provision, and progress was evident, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Essex– Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody which monitor the treatment of and conditions for detainees and aim to prevent ill-treatment. Essex police custody was last inspected in 2013 when inspectors found that detainees were treated well, but that much of the estate needed refurbishment and staff shortages were having an effect.

On this more recent inspection, inspectors visited the custody suites at Basildon, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Grays, Harlow, Southend and Stansted. Since 2013, the custody estate had reduced and four suites had closed permanently. Conditions at the newer suites were good but the environment at some older suites remained poor.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • staff continued to treat detainees well and were sensitive when dealing with vulnerable people or those from minority backgrounds;
  • management of the use of force in custody was good;
  • overall, the standard of health care was adequate; and
  • in most cases, the force planned sufficient emphasis on ensuring that detainees were released safely.

Inspectors were, however, concerned to find that:

  • the force was poorly served by its IT system, which custody sergeants found bureaucratic and difficult to use;
  • inspectors identified several potential ligature points, which required attention;
  • the force did not comply with all procedures in relation to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE); and
  • despite the force developing relationships with key stakeholders, too many vulnerable adults were brought into custody as a place of safety and too many children were held overnight when alternative accommodation should have been provided.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said:

“The force impressed us with being very open to and prepared to learn from scrutiny. A recent peer review of custody provision by colleagues from two external forces had been thorough and exacting, producing relevant recommendations. The force had started to act on this comprehensive report. While our own findings showed some progress in most areas, the internal work already being carried out reassured us that Essex police had a strong commitment to improve further the treatment and conditions for detainees held in its custody.”

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Essex– 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. 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 all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  3. Custody suites are occupied by those suspected of committing crime, and may also be used to temporarily accommodate people in need of medical attention or intervention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This 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 27 February – 10 March 2017.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons on 020 3681 2775 or Raymond Li at HMI Constabulary on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.