Northumbria Police custody - effective oversight of respectful detention

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) assessed that Northumbria Police had a good understanding of demand for custody services and sufficient staff in all its suites to meet this.

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Northumbria Police – joint inspection of police custody

Staff were found, in a visit in September 2019, to be respectful, courteous and empathetic, and engaged well with detainees, building good rapport with them, though limited privacy at the booking-in desks restricted the discussion of any confidential or sensitive information.

Conditions and cleanliness in the three full-time suites were good overall, with minimal graffiti. All cells had natural light and the temperature was mostly suitable. CCTV was installed across the custody estate, including in all cells, though the lack of audio coverage in key areas, together with poor audibility where there was coverage, limited its effectiveness. However, most resilience suites were not ready to be used at short notice.

The force had a good approach to adverse incidents. Key aspects of custody were also monitored to assess how well custody services were performing, identify trends, inform learning and hold partners and contract providers to account. The force had insufficient mechanisms to show that the use of force in detention and custody was always safe and proportionate, though the use of force in incidents reviewed by inspectors had generally been proportionate and justified.

There was a clear strategic priority to divert children and vulnerable people away from custody and prevent them from entering the criminal justice system. However, like many other inspected forces, Northumbria struggled to find alternative accommodation for children charged and refused bail.

Inspectors identified as good practice that detainees leaving custody could access mental health support for up to 12 weeks following release, which included counselling, social care and peer support.

Inspectors identified three causes for concern. One related to staff in the custody area being able to view detainees on CCTV using the toilet in their cell because these areas were not obscured on the CCTV screen. The other two related to the force’s adherence to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

The report recommended that the force “should take immediate action to ensure that all custody procedures comply with legislation and guidance, and that officers implement them consistently…the recording on custody records was inconsistent and lacked sufficient detail.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:

“Northumbria Police had a clear governance structure for custody with meetings at both strategic and operational levels providing effective oversight of the delivery of custody services. Good progress had been made in a number of areas since our previous inspection, especially in the health services provided to detainees.”

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Northumbria Police – joint inspection of police custody


  1. A copy of the full report, published on 23 January 2020, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  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 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  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 2 and 13 September 2019 of three custody suites containing 119 cells and six resilience suites with a further 65 cells. n Northumbria suites were last inspected in 2014.
  7. To aid improvement HMIP and HMICFRS have made three recommendations to the force (and the Police and Crime Commissioner) addressing key causes of concern, and have highlighted an additional 19 areas for improvement. These are set out in Section 6 of the report.
  8. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.