Police custody in Barnet, Brent and Harrow – some concerns

Implementation of a planned new structure for police custody in the Metropolitan Police Service should support standardisation and improvements in Barnet, Brent and Harrow, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Barnet, Brent and Harrow – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody. Previously the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) managed its custody suites by delegating responsibilities to the local borough operational command unit (BOCU). Now the MPS intends to organise the 32 London boroughs into seven clusters. This inspection covered part of the proposed North West cluster. Inspectors visited custody suites in Barnet (Colindale), Brent (Wembley) and Harrow.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there were significant gaps in management information available across a number of areas and the current arrangements could not provide sufficient assurance that custody was being used proportionately and appropriately;
  • there were often long delays in the booking-in process, with some vulnerable people enduring long waits in vans and van dock areas;
  • there were considerable variances in risk assessments, handovers and observations;
  • there was a lack of oversight of the use of force in custody; and
  • too many detainees stayed in custody longer than necessary because of factors such as delays in acquiring an appropriate adult and a lack of focus on case progression.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • custody staff were courteous and polite to detainees;
  • health services were generally effective, with good staff training, professional updating and supervision of clinical skills, but there were too few custody nurses and long delays in attendance by forensic medial examiners; and
  • custody suites were rarely used to detain people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said:

“Our unannounced inspection took place as the Metropolitan Police Service was reorganising custody provision across London boroughs into seven clusters. We were aware of this imminent change and current transitional arrangements. Some staff were waiting to take up posts and duties relating to the new structure. Previous inspections of the borough custody suites revealed significant differences between them, despite being within the same senior management structure. However, the proposed single custody-specific command structure is intended to ensure consistency and that similar standards are applied across the MPS. This may also offer the opportunity for coordination and strategic planning of pan-London services and partnerships supporting local initiatives which improve services to detainees. We expect our findings to be considered and an action plan to be provided in due course.”

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Barnet, Brent and Harrow – 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 10-15 November 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.