Metropolitan police custody - many positives but concerns about use of force and health care

Inspectors found many positive features in custody suites across the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) area, including clear overall governance and generally well-trained staff.

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Metropolitan Police Service – Joint inspection of police custody

Other strengths included respectful treatment of detainees – in suites which, though old and dated, were kept in good, clean condition – and a clear focus on keeping children and vulnerable adults, including those with mental ill-health, out of custody.

Inspectors also noted better compliance with Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) regulations on detention, covering a range of legal rights, than they have seen at recent police custody inspections.

However, the joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services identified two principal causes for concern:

  • Though custody staff were generally patient and sensitive when dealing with challenging detainees, with officers clearly focused on de-escalating situations, inspectors noted that when force was used against detainees the governance and oversight of incidents were not adequate. Inspectors’ concerns centred on the length of time some detainees remained in ‘spit and bite’ guards (known as spit hoods), use of poor techniques, and the proportionality of some of the force. The number of strip searches was high, and included many children and a significantly higher proportion of black and minority ethnic detainees compared against the overall throughput. The report noted: “We concluded that overall not all strip searches were warranted or properly justified.”
  • Inspectors also found that the strategic oversight of the provision of health care was poor, outcomes for detainees were inconsistent, and not all detainees received prompt access to medical care. The MPS was recommended to develop a “robust oversight of the delivery of health care services.”

Among areas where the MPS can improve, inspectors noted that the staffing of custody suites remained a challenge. During the inspection, there was a significant number of staff vacancies across all ranks, from designated detention officers (DDOs, members of police staff) to inspectors. While overtime was mostly used to cover shortfalls in staffing, this was not sustainable. In addition, custody staff were not always deployed effectively, and a lack of direction by inspectors and sergeants led to varying practices and inconsistent outcomes for detainees.

In the MPS – where 15 full-time or contingency suites were inspected out of a force total of 27 – inspectors found a” “strong emphasis on diverting children and vulnerable people from custody. There was a clear commitment to engaging with a vast range of partners to improve outcomes for detainees, but some arrangements, especially in relation to children, were still underdeveloped.” Like other forces around the country, the MPS struggled to find appropriate secure alternative accommodation in London for children charged but refused bail. The MPS was recommended to continue working with its partners to resolve this issue.

The MPS was also recommended to address weaknesses in the provision of detention for people with disabilities and female detainees.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said there was evidence of some general progress across Met Detention since the last inspection visit, in 2017. “In this inspection, we identified two causes of concern and several areas requiring improvement, which we were confident the force would be able to address.”

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Metropolitan Police Service – Joint inspection of police custody


  1. A copy of the full report, published on 15 January 2019, can be found on HMI Prison’s website
  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. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  4. 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. 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 inspection of 12 full-time and three contingency suite custody facilities in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in July 2018. The throughput of detainees in the inspected suites in the year to the inspection was 64,429 detainees. Overall, there are 27 suites in the force area with an annual throughput of 164,477 detainees This was the third in a series of inspections in the Metropolitan Police Service that ensured that all 27 operational custody suites and additional contingency suites had been inspected since 2015.
  7. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.