Bedfordshire police custody - investment needed

Despite some good individual care for detainees, the lack of improvement in police custody suites in Bedfordshire was disappointing, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

Get the report

Read Bedfordshire – Joint inspection of police custody suites

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Bedfordshire police custody suites. The first inspection was in August 2010, and referred to the poor conditions of the custody estate and risks concerning the cellular accommodation, arguing for investment. At this inspection, both investment and improvement were limited and the estate had significantly deteriorated. Inspectors were told, however, that the executive had recently agreed to build a new custody unit at Kempston. The chief constable decided to close Bedford custody suite during the inspection as a consequence of inspection findings.

Inspectors were also concerned to find that:

  • staffing levels were barely adequate, with custody staff relying on non-custody staff to complete tasks;
  • staff said there was no provision within the local authority area to accommodate children where a child was charged but not bailed, so some children remained in custody; and
  • although appropriate adult services were generally reasonable, they deteriorated outside normal office hours, and all staff reported difficulties accessing appropriate adult services for vulnerable adults, meaning these detainees could be held in custody for longer than necessary.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • a new Head of Custody and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) force lead had been appointed to over see developments;
  • a governance structure had been established, and was developing a process for collecting data and providing quality assurance;
  • detention periods were kept to a minimum in accordance with the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and staff handovers reflected a focus on case progression;
  • detainees across a range of religious and minority ethnic backgrounds said staff were respectful during their interactions;
  • staff were skilled at de-escalating some very difficult situations and engaged detainees with sensitivity, exploring issues of health and self-harm; and
  • health care was improving, with good governance and accountability, and those with alcohol and substance misuse issues had access to good support services.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“While we recognised that new initiatives are making progress, it was disappointing that it has taken over three years and a new senior leadership team to acknowledge the lack of strategic oversight. We noted that, of the 26 recommendations made in our previous report in 2010, seven had been achieved, four had been partially achieved and 15 had not been achieved. This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner 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.”

Get the report

Read Bedfordshire – Joint inspection of police custody suites


  • A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 7 October 2014 at:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This joint inspection was carried out from 7-11 April 2014.
  • Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.