Police custody in Barnet – better oversight needed

Police custody in Barnet was reasonable but better oversight and a more strategic focus was needed, 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 suite serving the London Borough of Barnet within the Metropolitan Police Service, comprising a suite at Colindale, open 24 hours a day.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
  • the suite had been refurbished and provided detainees with a decent environment;
  • there were some good interactions between staff and detainees and good day to day management of a busy suite;
  • nurses were based at the suite which ensured that detainees who needed health care were seen promptly; and
  • there was some good work to improve the care of detainees with mental health problems.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
  • strategic oversight was poor and there was a lack of senior management oversight of the custody facility;
  • staff discussed detainees within earshot of other detainees and their relatives which potentially breached confidentiality;
  • the court cut-off time was too early, and although custody staff had little control over this, it potentially had a detrimental effect on detainee welfare
  • although custody was rarely used as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act, two detainees had recently been brought to the suite under section 136 as no psychiatric hospital places were available. This needed to be discussed with strategic partners as soon as practicable.
Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:
“Overall, custody provision in Barnet was reasonable and, in the main, detainees were treated with respect, but a more strategic focus and better oversight were needed. 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. Read the report
  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 21-23 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.