Lancashire Police custody – disappointing

Lancashire Police had failed to build on previous progress in the way it held people in custody, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Lancashire – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Lancashire police custody cells. The first inspection was in 2011 when inspectors reported positively on many aspects of the way custody suites were run and made recommendations to address concerns. Recently inspectors visited the custody suites at Blackpool, Blackburn, Preston, Lancaster and Burnley, looking at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care. The suites at Skelmersdale were closed due to refurbishment. Inspectors found only 20% of previous recommendations had been achieved and most issues previously highlighted had either drifted or got worse.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there was no policy or proper oversight about the way force was used in the custody suites and no data about the extent of its use, making it impossible to determine whether practices were sound;
  • CCTV coverage in cells was still not pixellated, meaning people in the control area had a clear view of detainees using the toilet, which was not respectful;
  • insufficient data were gathered and only limited monitoring was carried out, meaning the force could not identify patterns, making it difficult to learn lessons and improve;
  • the effective application of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) was not always consistent and children still remained in custody for too long;
  • the lack of mental health beds meant that some unwell detainees remained in custody for too long, despite officers’ commitment to ensuring that police custody was not used as a place of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act;
  • the physical environment in older facilities remained inadequate; and
  • pre-release support for detainees varied considerably, but it was difficult to reach a clear judgement because of weaknesses in record-keeping.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • custody staff mostly behaved in a courteous and professional manner with detainees;
  • at a strategic level there had been some useful collaborative work by senior staff with partner agencies; and
  • detainees said they were content with the health care provided and mental health support was particularly good.

Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said:

“This was a disappointing inspection. The force had failed to build on the progress we identified previously. With generally good treatment of detainees and mostly reasonable conditions, the fundamental building blocks remained intact. However, there was a clear need for the force to develop and improve the infrastructure supporting custody, so that outcomes for all detainees are always good enough.”

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Lancashire – Joint inspection of police custody

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 4 November 2016.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. This joint inspection was carried out from 31 May – 10 June 2016.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons on 020 3681 2775 or Candy Silver at HMI Constabulary on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.