Police custody in Devon and Cornwall – caring and professional

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Police custody in Devon and Cornwall was generally positive and detainees were commendably well cared for, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection.

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody. Devon and Cornwall was the last Home Office force to be inspected as the programme reaches the end of its six-year cycle. It covered all custody suites: Camborne, Newquay, Launceston, Plymouth Crownhill, Exeter, Torquay and Barnstaple. Plymouth Crownhill was a temporary suite while the larger suite was being refurbished. Inspectors also visited four non-designated suites at St Austell, Falmouth, St Mary’s and Exmouth. Overall there were some areas of excellent practice, but some areas which still needed to be addressed.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the force had a clear plan for its custody estate, it had reduced the number of suites to locations at strategic points across the area, and was upgrading them to ensure they were fit for purpose;
  • custody staff ensured that detainees of all ages were cared for appropriately;
  • all staff had undergone custody-specific training before taking up custody duties;
  • custody staff were competent to assess and manage detainee risks, which were identified early;
  • use of force was proportionate and lawful;
  • detainees were told of their right to legal advice and Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) codes of practice were available and offered to detainees at most suites; and
  • Serco Health provided good primary health services, with appropriate contract monitoring by the force.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • it had become the accepted option to detain people for their own safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act in the majority of cases, which was unacceptable; and
  • some detainees spent too long in police custody before they were able to go to court because there were delays in courts accepting them.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“The Devon and Cornwall force covered a wide geographical area that tested it every day but it had a clear plan for its custody estate. We commend the force for its efforts in ensuring that detainees were treated respectfully. However, we were concerned about the care of those detained in police custody for their own safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act which had become the accepted option in Devon and Cornwall in the majority of cases.”

“This report provides a small number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner to improve provisions 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.”

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Read ‘Devon and Cornwall – Joint inspection of police custody suites’


  1. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMIP Press Office) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.
  2. 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.