Metropolitan Police Service: Met Detention South – custody provision had improved but weaknesses remained

New arrangements for police custody in London had led to improvements as areas were grouped into clusters, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection of Met Detention South.

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Met Detention South – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody. Met Detention became operational in 2015. It is the newly formed and overarching police custody command for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). It has seven custody clusters and this was the first inspection of the southern cluster which included Brixton, Croydon, Sutton and Wandsworth. The suites were previously inspected under the governance and resource of the local borough commander. The change appeared to be a positive development, providing organisational coherence and consistency throughout the MPS custody operations. Croydon and Brixton were two of the busiest suites in London.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • some partnership working had yielded excellent outcomes, especially for those suffering mental ill-health;
  • the overall treatment of detainees by staff was good;
  • risk assessments were considered and staff worked well with specialist health and substance misuse workers;
  • detainees’ legal rights were explained to them as they were booked in and custody sergeants could also provide examples of when they had refused detention;
  • custody nurses received excellent training for their role, but health care was affected by difficulties in recruiting and retaining personnel;
  • a new initiative at some London suites, where custody health care staff had, with detainees’ consent, electronic access to their prescribing information from their GP, provided timely information; and
  • access to substance misuse workers was good and three of the suites had mental health teams who delivered immediate support.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there were significant staff shortages which the commander was trying to address;
  • although the collection of management information was broadly appropriate, some relevant data, such as on the use of strip searches, were not being gathered;
  • there was no evidence of initiatives to improve outcomes for children who were charged and not bailed;
  • although staff used good de-escalation skills, overall the recording and monitoring of incidents involving use of force was poor;
  • appropriate adult (AA) services were generally chaotic; and
  • detainees required to attend court were subject to unnecessary and prolonged stays in police custody and there was no evidence of measures to address this.

Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said:

“The staff’s professionalism and care, demonstrated in the treatment of detainees, were among the key strengths of MDS custody provision. Risk assessments were focused and proportionate. Similarly in health care, custody nurses were trained and professional. The substance misuse and mental health provision was good. Weaknesses identified were mainly in the lack of strategic partnerships, which had a negative impact on vulnerable detainees. Provision for children was poor; AA provision was not adequately organised and detainees were detained for unnecessarily prolonged periods.”

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Met Detention South – Joint inspection of police custody

Notes to editors

  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 3-9 November 2015.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452, or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.