Police custody in Thames Valley - generally positive but health care needed to improve

People held in police custody in Thames Valley were generally well cared for but health care needed to improve, 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 covered nine custody suites: Aylesbury, Abingdon, Banbury, High Wycombe, Loddon Valley, Milton Keynes, Maidenhead, Newbury and Oxford. Overall there were some areas of excellence, but some areas which still needed to be addressed.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
  • there was a clear strategic focus on custody, including a five-year rationalisation of the estate;
  • staffing was adequate;
  • detainees were treated with decency and their diverse needs were mainly met;
  • most suites were clean with minimal graffiti;
  • there were good structures to manage the risks associated with custody;
  • use of force was proportionate and lawful and was recorded by each officer involved and used to inform training; and
  • detainees were told of their right to legal advice and Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) codes of practice were available and offered to detainees at each suite.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
  • the design in some cells presented ligature points, and the force was not sighted on this;
  • detainees spent too long in custody as a result of early court cut-off times and court staff refusing to accept detainees into their custody, and police did not challenge this;
  • there was little governance of forensic medical examiners (FMEs) and the supply, storage, prescribing and administration of medicines was of concern; and
  • mental health services were not well developed, and custody was too often used as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act.
Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:
‘Overall, the care of detainees in the Thames Valley force was good, the professional attitude of custody staff and the positive culture towards detainee care was some of the best we have seen. However, health services provision was some of the worst we have seen. Thames Valley police force had not opted to be at the forefront of NHS commissioning of health services, and outcomes for detainees were potentially suffering as a result.
‘This report provides a small number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner to improve provisions 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 report. (383 kB)
  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 9-19 September 2013.
  6. Please contact Phil Gillen (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 or Barbara Buchanan at HMI Prisons on 020 3681 2772  if you would like more information.