#025/2013 Police custody in Westminster – well managed and professional

Police custody provision in Westminster was well managed and staff treated detainees with care, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection.

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody. It looked at two custody suites operating 24 hours a day: Charing Cross and Belgravia. It also looked at the physical conditions of three standby suites at Harrow Road, Paddington and West End Central. West End Central was currently being used by another police area. Westminster police had implemented a centralised custody management structure which worked well.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • staffing levels were found to be appropriate and line management was clear;
  • detainees were treated with care and officers had a respectful approach;
  • all staff responded appropriately to vulnerable detainees;
  • there was good health care provision, including a team of registered mental health nurses; and
  • handover arrangements were of a good standard.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the lack of private booking-in facilities was a problem and staff were sometimes heard discussing sensitive details of an arrest in the presence of others;
  • at the virtual courts system at Charing Cross, delays in the provision of warrants meant that people were not immediately transferred to prison, prolonging their stay in police custody;
  • the force adhered to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) definition of a child, treating 17-year-olds as adults, meaning the young people were not supported by an appropriate adult; and
  • officers had little awareness of PACE code G which states that arrest is required only when voluntary attendance is not appropriate.

The force also needed to consider the ratio of men to women in their detention officer workforce and to have a sufficient number of female staff available to provide appropriate care for female detainees.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“In summary, the borough has some good systems in its management of custody, and professional staff, supported by health care personnel. However, there are some actions that the force can take to reduce the number of people in custody. This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to improve provision further. 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.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 07 August 2013 at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/hmicfrs/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmi-prisons/police-cell
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 04-09 February 2013.
  5. In all other UK law and international treaty obligations, 17-year-olds are treated as children. In April 2013, the High Court ruled that the PACE definition was incompatible with human rights law and the government announced that it would accept this judgment.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMIP Press Office) on 020 7035 2123 or 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.