Police custody in Newham - very disappointing

Police custody provision in Newham was poor and needed to improve, said Martin Lomas, Deputy 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 Newham within the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the suite of 15 cells at Forest Gate. The inspection of Newham police custody was the last MPS borough in the first round of inspections of police custody which started in 2008.

Inspectors found some of the worst conditions they have seen anywhere in the MPS. It was clear that staff locally were not working effectively with the MPS territorial policing criminal justice (TPCJ) directorate, which seeks to ensure consistency in custody provision across London boroughs. There was a lack of strategic oversight and detainees were provided with poor care.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the suite was chaotic, with too many people in the area in front of the desk either waiting for a room to become free or waiting to book in a detainee;
  • the cells were dirty and not always checked every day;
  • the suite lacked basic items such as replacement clothing and tapes for interviews;
  • staff did not know how to access the territorial policing criminal justice intranet site which has policies and information to assist them in their work in custody;
  • Police and Criminal Evidence Act reviews were often carried out too early;
  • detainees often had to wait over two hours to be seen by a forensic medical examiner; and
  • there was no mental health liaison or diversion scheme to assist detainees with mental health issues.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • substance misuse services were reasonable; and
  • custody was not used as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act.

Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said:

‘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. However, given the poor outcomes for detainees we would urge both the borough and the MPS territorial policing criminal justice directorate to take urgent action to improve custody facilities at Newham.’

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 10-12 December 2013.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or Phil Gillen (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.