Police custody in Northamptonshire – respectful custody but some weaknesses requiring urgent improvement

Northamptonshire Police treated those in detention respectfully, in clean custody suites, and was effective in keeping many children and vulnerable adults out of detention, criminal justice inspectors found.

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Northamptonshire – Joint inspection of police custody

However, an inspection of the force’s two custody suites in Northampton and Kettering highlighted areas of concern. These included insufficient staffing levels on some shifts to ensure safe detention. In the suite at Weekley Woods, near Kettering, this meant slow responses to cell call bells and observations of detainees were not always conducted at the required frequency.

In several areas, the force did not comply with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), covering the detention, treatment and questioning of suspects, and inspectors said the force should improve some shortcomings urgently. These included the practice of rousing detainees through the cell door hatch, rather than entering the cell as required under PACE.

Inspectors were also concerned about the use of force. The report said: “The governance and oversight of the use of force in custody were inadequate, data were unreliable, and Northamptonshire Police did not record all instances where force was used in its custody suites. Not all uses of force were proportionate to the risk or threat posed.”

However, inspectors also noted that in practice many custody staff were patient, calm and reassuring when dealing with challenging detainees, and that force was generally only deployed as a last resort following efforts to de-escalate situations.

The two suites, with a total of 62 cells, were inspected in an unannounced visit in January 2018 by a joint team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Northamptonshire’s custody is run in a collaboration with three other forces – Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. While finding this high-level governance structure to be appropriate, inspectors recommended that Northamptonshire should ensure more direct scrutiny by its own senior officers of its own custody suites.

Inspectors noted that the Northamptonshire force “was clearly focused on the diversion of vulnerable people from custody…There was some positive work with partners to achieve this. There had been good progress in work with mental health services to divert people with mental ill health from custody.”

Frontline officers were effective in finding ways to avoid taking children into custody and those who were detained were well cared for. The force had policies to move children charged and refused bail from custody to alternative accommodation. However, in a finding echoing those in inspections of other forces, inspectors noted there was “little progress” in achieving this aim in Northamptonshire.

Overall, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:

“Custody staff treated detainees respectfully. They recognised, and in the main, met individual and diverse needs. To aid improvement we have identified a number of key areas of concern and areas for improvement. While the regional arrangements provided an appropriate governance structure for custody services in Northamptonshire Police, there was insufficient direct oversight and scrutiny at the force’s senior officer level.”

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Northamptonshire – 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. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
  3. 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.
  4. This joint custody suite inspection was carried out between 8-18 January 2018.
  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. Inspectors visited custody suites in Northampton and at Weekley Woods, near Kettering. Northamptonshire Police custody services were delivered through a formal collaboration under section 22, Police Act 1996 with three other forces in the East Midlands – Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The strategic leadership for custody across all four forces was the responsibility of the assistant chief constable (ACC) of Leicestershire, supported by a chief superintendent head of the East Midlands Criminal Justice Service. Two chief inspectors had day-to-day responsibility for operational custody matters, with two forces each. One chief inspector from Leicestershire had responsibility for Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
  7. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Raymond Li (HMICFRS Press Office) on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.