Cleveland police custody – generally positive

Police custody in Cleveland was generally positive, but needed to make some further improvements, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Cleveland – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Cleveland police custody suites. The first inspection was in May 2011. Since then the Redcar suite has closed and two full-time suites remain at Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. Middlesbrough custody suite remains one of the largest in the country.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there was a good focus on safe detention through supporting and developing policies on dealing with adverse incidents and complaints;
  • there was a concerted effort to develop partnership work with health services to reduce the number of people who suffered from mental ill health being kept in police cells under section 136 of the Mental Health Act, but despite significant improvements, the number of those people detained was still unacceptably high;
  • staff interactions with detainees were generally polite, courteous and sometimes excellent, though there were some inconsistencies;
  • custody sergeants said they would refuse to detain people where appropriate and data supported the reduced demand on custody through these measures;
  • investigations made good progress to ensure that those detained were released quickly;
  • leadership of health provision was good and the service was effective and well integrated; and
  • the arrest referral team in Middlesbrough screened detainees with substance misuse problems and directed people to community services.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the use of force needed to be monitored;
  • there was little monitoring of the numbers of children who needed local authority accommodation and more needed to be done to ensure children were not kept in cells overnight;
  • once booked in, most detainees were placed on standard 30-minute checks which meant the process of risk assessment to help identify the most or least vulnerable detainees was irrelevant; and
  • ongoing risk management was further undermined by poor shift handovers, especially at Middlesbrough.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Overall our inspection found that Cleveland police’s senior management team was focused on ensuring detention was safe by establishing partnership arrangements with other organisations that provided detainees, especially those with mental ill health, with appropriate care. However, more could have been done in conjunction with local authorities to promote the welfare of children. Staff were courteous but further guidance should have been provided on preserving detainees’ dignity in the course of CCTV monitoring. There was evidence of a reduction in the number of people passing through the custody suites. Patient care services for people needing medical attention in custody were good. This report provides a small number of recommendations. We expect our findings to be considered and for an action plan to be provided in due course.”

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Cleveland – Joint inspection of police custody


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 enables a police officer to remove, from a public place, someone who they believe to be suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care and control, and take them to a place of safety – for example, a health or social care facility, or the home of a relative or friend. In exceptional circumstances (for example if the person’s behaviour would pose an unmanageably high risk to others), the place of safety may be police custody. Section 136 also states that the purpose of detention is to enable the person to be assessed by a doctor and an approved mental health professional (for example a specially trained social worker or nurse), and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 8-12 December 2014.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.