Police custody in Barking and Dagenham – positive and professional

Police custody in Barking and Dagenham was among the best provision we have seen in the Metropolitan Police Service, 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 the custody suites serving the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham within the Metropolitan Police Service, which comprised a suite at Barking with 30 cells open 24 hours a day and an overflow suite of nine cells in Dagenham that was open when required.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the borough commander provided good strategic leadership for the custody function;
  • the main suite at Barking was fairly new and cells were generally clean;
  • interactions with detainees were good and staff were experienced at de-escalating situations;
  • staff managed risks appropriately;
  • the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) was adhered to;
  • young people and vulnerable adults were well served by an appropriate adult scheme;
  • arrangements for taking complaints were better than elsewhere;
  • health care provision was reasonable and the Barking suite had a nurse based there 24 hours a day; and
  • custody was rarely used as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act 1983.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there were insufficient permanent custody staff for the department to be self-sufficient and low staffing levels across all shifts meant they were not always able to provide sufficient care for detainees;
  • as with other police forces, there was a lack of appropriate monitoring of the use of force, both locally and London-wide;
  • issues with the fabric of the building meant that cells were often put out of use because of maintenance problems;
  • there was a culture of keeping detainees in custody overnight, rather than pursuing their cases, partly due to a lack of staff available at certain times; and
  • there was no mental health liaison scheme, which led to delays in getting detainees assessed.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Overall, custody provision in Barking and Dagenham was one of the best we have seen in the Metropolitan Police Service. There was good strategic oversight, but staffing levels needed attention to ensure that the needs of detainees were met and that they did not stay in custody for longer than necessary. Mental health services needed developing. This report provides a small 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 7 January 2014 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. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 enables a police officer to remove someone from a public place and take them to a place of safety – for example, a police station or health care setting. It also states clearly that the purpose of being taken to the place of safety is to enable the person to be examined by a doctor and interviewed by an approved social worker, and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
  5. This joint inspection was carried out from 29 July – 1 August 2013.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMIP Press Office) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.