Sussex police custody – a mixed picture

Most people held in police custody in Sussex were treated decently, but the force needed to make some improvements, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Sussex – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody which monitor the treatment of and conditions for detainees and aim to prevent ill-treatment. It was the second inspection of Sussex police custody cells. The first inspection was in 2011, when inspectors reported mostly positively, though there were concerns related to the number of ligature points in cells and the use of police custody as a ‘place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act. On this more recent inspection, inspectors visited the custody suites at Brighton, Chichester, Crawley, Eastbourne, Hastings and Worthing. They looked at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most detainees continued to be treated with respect and consideration and the condition of most cells was still adequate;
  • there was a clear governance structure for custody and overall responsibility was held at a sufficiently senior level;
  • the force was committed to preventing the criminalisation of children and the diversion of children away from custody was a priority;
  • initial risk assessments when a detainee was booked in to custody were consistently good; and
  • mental health services in the custody suites and street triage were provided by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the support offered was good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • no progress had been made in relation to mitigating or eliminating the risks previously identified in relation to potential ligature points, which placed detainees and the force at significant risk. Soon after inspectors reported present concerns the force quickly provided a report on how they intended to address the outstanding problems;
  • in spite of collaborative work between the force and partners, the number of detainees held under section 136 of the Mental Health Act as a place of safety had increased in the recent six-month period;
  • the collation and extraction of data from force systems were inadequate, particularly in relation to the use of force, leading to an inability to monitor key areas of activity; and
  • there were some weaknesses in the way that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and the codes of practice were being applied, such as an over-reliance of conducting reviews remotely by telephone.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said:

“Despite some mixed findings, this was still a relatively positive inspection. Importantly, most detainees held in police custody in Sussex continued to be treated decently. We look forward to seeing that the work required to achieve the necessary improvements is carried out.”

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Sussex – 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. Custody suites are occupied by those suspected of committing crime, and may also be used to temporarily accommodate people in need of medical attention or intervention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This 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 7 – 18 November 2016.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Candy Silver (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.