Wiltshire police custody – notable progress

Wiltshire police custody had improved across most areas, especially in their treatment of people with a mental illness and children. Generally the way the use of force was monitored needed to be better, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Wiltshire – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Wiltshire police custody cells. The first inspection was in September 2009. Inspectors visited the custody suites at Swindon and Melksham, looking at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there was a clear management structure up to assistant chief constable, who had strategic lead on custody matters and good staffing levels, including an innovative use of bank staff;
  • progress had been made on reducing the number of mentally ill people detained in police custody as a place of safety;
  • the treatment of detainees was generally considerate;
  • staff had good awareness of vulnerability and diversity, responding appropriately to children in their care;
  • risk assessments and handovers were suitably focused;
  • detainees had access to private legal consultations and Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) reviews were thorough and timely, giving the detainee the opportunity to discuss concerns;
  • a new, more robust health care contract was due to start in January 2016; and
  • mental health services had improved, but the time taken to complete a mental health assessment was poor, with extensive waits.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there had been relatively poor progress on finding accommodation for children who had been charged but refused bail;
  • the issue of detainees being held for a prolonged period owing to lack of court availability had not been progressed at a senior level;
  • the use of force was not recorded, was sometimes disproportionate and in some cases involved leg restraints for people who were self-harming, which was inappropriate or Tasers, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances; and
  • substance misuse services had deteriorated.

Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said:

“The force had made notable progress in most areas of inspection. Individual interactions between staff and detainees were good, with considerable attention paid to vulnerable groups. Senior management needed to ensure support from statutory partners, local authorities and courts in particular, in providing good outcomes for detainees. Recording and monitoring the use of force was poor and required immediate attention, substance and alcohol misuse support was inadequate, and while there was an encouraging and improving picture in mental health, this needs to be sustained.”

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Wiltshire – 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 7-11 December 2015.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452, or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.