Police custody in north London – generally good treatment and conditions but too many children held for too long

Detainees in police custody suites in a large area of north London were usually well treated, in good conditions, but too many children were kept in cells overnight and even at weekends, according to a joint criminal justice inspectorates report.

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North London– Joint inspection of police custody

Evidence from nine suites across north and north east London showed that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) closely monitored the number of children in custody but lacked a central focus on diverting them from the criminal justice system.

The report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services found that frontline officers were aware of the importance of avoiding taking children into custody. However, the seriousness of some offences and the lack of diversion schemes limited the opportunities to keep children from the criminal justice system.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:

“Too many children who were charged and refused bail remained in custody overnight, and sometimes the weekend, when they should have been moved to alternative accommodation provided through the local authority.

“The MPS was some way behind other forces in developing the necessary strategic links to make progress in this area.” MPS data for the cluster showed that in the 12 months to 31 May 2017, 449 children were charged and had bail refused. Of these, 310 requests for appropriate accommodation were made to local authorities but only three children were moved. Children charged and refused bail spent an average of 11 hours 32 minutes in police custody after they were charged. In some cases children were held over the weekend, which meant much longer stays in custody.”

The report noted:

“Little progress had been made regarding the provision of alternative accommodation for children, and there was no secure accommodation available across London.”

It recommended that the MPS should agree arrangements with local authority partners to avoid the overnight detention of children in custody by their transfer to suitable alternative accommodation.

Overall, however, inspectors observed custody staff dealing with children and vulnerable adults in a positive and reassuring way. Children could speak with family members by telephone and mental health nurses tried to see children when possible. However, girls were not routinely allocated a female officer and most custody staff were not aware of this requirement.

The report noted that inspectors found many other positive features. Detainees were usually treated well and the conditions they were held in were generally good.

“It was encouraging that the MPS went to some lengths to minimise the risks presented by potential ligature points.”

Services for detainees with mental ill health had also significantly improved.

“No individual had been detained in any of the suites we inspected as a place of safety under section 136 (of the Mental Health Act) in 2017, which was part of an impressive London-wide strategy.”

Inspectors found no use of anti-rip clothing anywhere across the force area, which was commendable. They were also satisfied with the way data on the use of force were collated and disaggregated for custody. The data assessed indicated that the use of force was low relative to the throughput of the custody facilities.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said:

“Despite the areas highlighted that require attention, overall this was a positive inspection and, given the initial reaction to our findings, we are confident that the MPS has the capacity and commitment to work constructively on the improvements required.”

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North London– 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. 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.
  5. This joint custody suite inspection was carried out between 19-30 June 2017.
  6. 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.
  7. This was the first inspection we have carried out of police custody suites in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) North and North East as a cluster. It covers suites previously reported on in nine MPS boroughs. The inspection looked at suites in Bethnal Green, Forest Gate, Fresh Wharf, Ilford, Leyton, Romford, Shoreditch, Stoke Newington and Wood Green.
  8. 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.