Police custody in Southwark - progress made, but more to do

Police custody provision in Southwark had improved but there were still some gaps in provision and some issues to address, 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. This was the second inspection of police custody in Southwark the inspectorates have carried out. The first was at the very beginning of the joint work programme, in 2008. Since then the force had rationalised their custody provision and there was now just one suite of 30 cells at Walworth Road with another suite of eight cells for the detention of terrorist suspects only. The suites at Peckham and Southwark were no longer in use.

Strategic oversight of the suites was provided centrally by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Criminal Justice Directorate within the Territorial Policing department, which seeks to ensure consistency in custody provision across London. They had recently undertaken their own inspection and introduced several processes to improve the care of detainees.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there were some excellent interactions between custody sergeants and detainees;
  • not all detainees were handcuffed and there was very little strip searching;
  • pre-release risk assessments were completed well;
  • the suite had been recently refurbished and was generally clean;
  • the suite benefitted from having a nurse on site 24 hours a day with support from a forensic medical examiner;
  • custody was rarely used as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act; and
  • of the 38 recommendations in the previous report which remain relevant, 15 had been achieved and eight partially achieved.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • as elsewhere in the MPS, there was a lack of appropriate monitoring of the use of force, both locally and London-wide;
  • arresting officers were aware of alternatives to custody but said not all acted in accordance with this, and that senior managers had told them voluntary attendance at a police station as opposed to arrest should only be used in exceptional circumstances. This was not a lawful order;
  • staffing needed to be reviewed to ensure that there were always enough staff to cope with demand;
  • the recent introduction of custody support inspectors across boroughs, twinning with Lewisham, had led to some problems with ensuring that reviews were carried out at the correct time due to time taken travelling between suites;
  • some responses from designated detention officers (DDOs) to detainees were curt and abrupt;
  • some of the cells were extremely cold and the exercise yards were filthy; and
  • there was no mental health liaison and diversion scheme and sometimes there was a considerable wait for a mental health emergency duty team.

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.”

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 19-22 November 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.