British Transport Police custody – clear and accountable governance but some concerns

Detention in custody by British Transport Police (BTP) was found to be run under a clear governance structure, with detainees treated respectfully.

However, in January 2020 criminal justice inspectors also identified causes of concern, including a reliance on overtime to maintain staffing levels and the use of some inexperienced officers.

The force deals with incidents on the railways and their immediate surrounds. BTP has one operational custody suite in London, at Brewery Road N7, and other contingency suites. The inspection in January related only to the Brewery Road suite, which has 20 cells.

People arrested at major stations such as King’s Cross, St Pancras and Euston are taken to Brewery Road, along with some detainees arrested elsewhere in London. Other people arrested by BTP officers outside the London area are taken to the nearest custody suite in the local police force area.

Among positive findings, inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) noted that custody staff engaged respectfully and courteously with detainees, and those detainees inspectors spoke to said they had been treated well. Staff paid good attention to maintaining detainees’ privacy and dignity.

Frontline BTP officers only took children to custody as a last resort after exploring all other alternatives. A pan-London mental health team telephone advice line provided good support to help officers decide whether an individual should be detained in custody under the Mental Health Act or whether alternative solutions were available.

However, inspectors also found causes of concern:

  • Officers on overtime from outside custody were used, which meant the suite was sometimes staffed by less experienced staff who were not well enough supported.
  • The monitoring and managing of performance were limited. There were gaps in the data collected for some areas, some data were unreliable and the quality of custody records was not always good enough.
  • Governance and oversight of the use of force were not good enough. Data on incidents were not comprehensive or reliable, and not all officers involved in incidents completed use of force forms as required. Inspectors, though, saw good examples of staff using de-escalation techniques.
  • The force did not consistently meet the relevant requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). Though some reviews of detention were conducted very well and in the best interests of the detainee, the overall approach to PACE reviews was not good enough.

Overall, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“British Transport Police had a clear governance structure which provided appropriate accountability for its custody services and facilities. The force was open to external scrutiny and had made good progress against the recommendations made in our last report (in 2014). We were confident that they would use this inspection to make further improvements.”



Notes to Editors:

1. The report, published on 21 April 2020, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.

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. On 19 July 2017 HM Inspectorate of Constabulary took on responsibility for fire and rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

4. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies. HMICFRS will inspect all 45 fire and rescue services in England.

5. This report is part of a programme of unannounced inspections of police custody carried out jointly by the two inspectorates and which form a key part of the joint work programme of the criminal justice inspectorates. These inspections also contribute to the United Kingdom’s response to its international obligation to ensure regular and independent inspection of all places of detention. The inspections look at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.

6. This report describes the findings following an unannounced inspection between 6 and 16 January 2020 of the BTP operational custody suite at Brewery Road in London N7, with 20 cells. The force also has four continency suites in London with a further 23 cells. Detainees arrested elsewhere across the country are taken to police custody suites in other force areas. BTP custody facilities were last inspected in 2014.

7. To aid improvement, HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HMICFRS have made four recommendations to the force (and the British Transport Police Authority) addressing key causes of concern and have highlighted an additional 17 areas for improvement. These are set out in Section 6 of the report.

8. Please contact John Steele (HM Inspectorate of Prisons Press Office) on 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.