Surrey Police custody - a mixed picture

Police custody in Surrey was making progress in some areas, but needed some further improvements, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Surrey – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Surrey police custody suites. The first inspection was in February 2010. Since then there had been a reduction in the custody estate from four full-time suites to three full-time suites (Guildford, Staines and Salfords) and one standby suite (Woking). Reigate had closed and a new purpose-built suite had been built at Salfords.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there was a clear organisational structure to support the provision of safe detention for people held;
  • engagement with partner agencies was evident and had led to reduced numbers of detainees in police cells under section 136 of the Mental Health Act;
  • all custody staff observed by the inspection team were professional and courteous in their dealings with detainees and provided a good standard of care;
  • attention was paid to the diverse needs of detainees, especially in the care of women;
  • custody staff produced good risk assessments and care plans were routinely updated in response to changes in detainees’ circumstances;
  • staff reported receiving an excellent service from Surrey Appropriate Adult Volunteer Scheme; and
  • detainees received effective health service provision and drug and alcohol services worked well.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • further work needed to be completed to ensure custody suites were adequately staffed;
  • despite evident engagement with partner agencies, more progress needed to be made to reduce the number of people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act still further, and with the local authority to provide accommodation for children who have been refused police bail;
  • shift handovers were inadequate;
  • oversight and governance of the use of force was inadequate and there was no common understanding of the term ‘use of force’ which could lead to an under-reporting by police officers; and
  • police staff routinely fingerprinted, photographed and took DNA samples from children without the presence of an appropriate adult.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Overall, the inspection found that Surrey police were making progress in some areas but that there were others which required improvement. Immediate attention is required in the treatment of children, and oversight and accountability of the use of force in the custody suite. This report provides a number of recommendations to the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner. 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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Surrey – 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 and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  3. 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.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 12-16 January 2015.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.