Sussex police custody - Too little progress on key concerns

Inspectors who visited custody suites in the Sussex Police force found a lack of progress on key recommendations for improvement made three years before.

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Sussex Police – Joint inspection of police custody

HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services followed up a full inspection in 2016 with a visit in 2017 to assess progress against the concerns identified in 2016, which found limited progress. The force was then prioritised for a further full inspection, in November 2019.

At the 2019 inspection the joint inspection team found there had been investment in the suite at Hastings but there were many potential ligature points across the custody estate, including some that were remaining since the previous inspection.

Three of the custody suites were provided and maintained under contractual arrangements with Tascor, the private contractor, which, the report said, “made it more difficult, and hindered the force’s ability, to make some of the improvements needed. Although the force had taken some actions to offset or manage the risks posed by the potential ligature points, these were not enough to consistently ensure safe detention.”

Among positive findings, staffing levels were generally sufficient to meet the demand in custody and staff were patient and positive with detainees, and most interactions were clear, courteous and reassuring. The force worked hard to keep children out of custody, though – as inspectors have found in other forces – the local authority could not meet its to obligation provide alternative secure accommodation for those arrested, charged and then refused bail.

However, in addition to potential ligature points inspectors urged immediate action on three other key 2016 concerns which were still evident in 2019:

  • The force did not consistently meet the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). There were concerns about poor aspects of the review of detention under PACE.
  • Governance and oversight of the use of force were not sufficient. Data on use of force incidents were not comprehensive or reliable, and not all officers involved in incidents completed use of force forms, as required. “This limited any meaningful oversight by senior managers.”
  • The force’s approach to monitoring and managing performance was limited. There were gaps in the data collected for some key areas, and performance concerns were not always identified and addressed.

Inspectors were also concerned that too many detainees with mental ill health problems were held in custody for far too long waiting for mental health assessments and, where needed, onward transfer to a mental health bed. The report noted, however: “The force area includes Beachy Head, a notorious suicide spot, which placed significant pressure on both the police and mental health services. The force and its mental health partners had developed plans setting out the actions to take for some individuals who regularly visited Beachy Head.”

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

“Sussex Police had a clear governance structure to provide accountability for the delivery of custody, with oversight at both strategic and operational levels. Despite this, although there had been some improvements since our last inspection, there had been too little progress overall in the areas of concern we had identified.”

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Sussex Police – 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.
  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 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.
  5. This report describes the findings following an unannounced inspection between 4 and 15 November 2019 of five Sussex Police custody suites with a total of 115 cells. In the year to 30 October 2019 the detainee throughput was 24,163. Sussex custody was last subject to a full inspected in 2016, with a visit in 2017 to assess progress on key concerns from 2016.
  6. To aid improvement HMIP and HMICFRS have made four recommendations to the force (and the police and crime commissioner) addressing key causes of concern, and have highlighted an additional 19 areas for improvement. These are set out in Section 6 of the report.
  7. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.