#026/2012 Police custody in Avon and Somerset – adequate

There had been some improvements to police custody provision in Avon and Somerset but some concerns remained, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, publishing the report of an unannounced follow-up inspection in July this year.

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody, and was a follow-up to a previous inspection in August 2010. It looked at ten full-time designated custody suites: Trinity Road, Broadbury Road, Southmead Road and Staple Hill in Bristol, as well as suites in Bath, Yeovil, Taunton, Minehead, Bridgwater and Weston-super-Mare. Inspectors also looked at eight non-designated suites: The Mall, Thornbury, Radstock, Frome, Wells, Burnham-on-Sea, Chard and Nailsea, though many of those cells were not in use.

The force had taken previous recommendations seriously and inspectors identified improvements in several areas, particularly in strategic management and in the provision of health services. However, some concerns remained.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • strategic leadership for custody provision was provided by an assistant chief constable;
  • staff interactions with detainees were professional and their approach was generally respectful;
  • seventeen-year-olds were generally treated as juveniles, which was good practice;
  • an appropriate balance was maintained between progressing cases and the rights of individuals and voluntary attendance was systematically encouraged;
  • health care monitoring arrangements and substance use services were good; and
  • the use of police cells as a place of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 had reduced.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • strategic management arrangements were confusing and affected consistent standards of practice, though this was being addressed;
  • the assessment and management of risk during booking-in and pre-release needed more quality assurance to ensure consistency;
  • there was no effective monitoring of the use of force;
  • despite improvements, most suites were still in a rundown condition;
  • response times for forensic medical examiners were often too long; and
  • there was still inadequate provision of health-based places of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act, particularly for the Bristol and Avon area.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Overall, police custody provision in Avon and Somerset was adequate. There was clear strategic direction, and the force was at a critical point where there was a need to implement some key changes and engage staff in the process. This report provides a small number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner 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 04 December 2012 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 and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the British Transport Police and HMRC.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 09-13 July 2012.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMIP Press Office) on 020 7035 2123 or 07880 787452 or Ruth Allman (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information or to request an interview.