Police custody in Thames Valley – generally positive and respectful but some serious safety concerns

People taken into custody by Thames Valley Police were held in generally clean and well-maintained cells and were treated respectfully, inspectors found. Staff dealt well with many challenging detainees.

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Thames Valley – Joint inspection of police custody

Overall, Thames Valley had “a strong and focused governance structure that provided appropriate accountability for custody.” There was a clear commitment to providing effective custody services, with well-trained custody sergeants.

The force worked well with a range of partner agencies to divert vulnerable people from custody, though efforts to ensure that children spent as little time as possible in custody were sometimes undermined by the lack of appropriate alternative accommodation provided by local authorities.

Despite the “generally positive” picture, however, a joint inspection in February 2018, by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, raised some serious concerns:

  • The force did not comply with several requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). Concerns included reviews of detention and the rousing on of intoxicated detainees.
  • Though custody staff often de-escalated situations effectively to avoid using force, inspectors found records of the use of force were inconsistent. “In cases we reviewed, the use of force was not always proportionate to the threat posed. Governance of the use of force in custody was not sufficiently rigorous.”
  • Some serious safety concerns and significant risks to detainees were not managed well enough. Shortages of staff meant cell call bells frequently went unanswered and detainee checks were not always conducted in line with observation levels set.
  • Strip searches were properly authorised but were not always conducted thoroughly enough. Some detainees could retrieve concealed items while in the cell, such as drugs and other items that could cause harm, despite having been searched and sometimes while being closely watched. Two detainees were taken to hospital after taking drugs while in custody.

Inspectors found the custody suites, in eight locations across the large force area, were generally clean and well maintained, with little graffiti, though many were too cold.

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

“This inspection of custody facilities in Thames Valley was generally positive. The force had demonstrated some progress following our last inspection, especially in health services, and could evidence positive practice. With respect to the significant concerns and areas for improvement we identified, we were confident that the force’s strong leadership and clear grip on performance would enable it to act effectively to address these issues.”

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Thames Valley – 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. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
  3. 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.
  4. This joint custody suite inspection was carried out between 5–16 February 2018.
  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. At the time of the inspection the Thames Valley force had 169 cells in custody suites in Abingdon, Aylesbury, Banbury, High Wycombe, Loddon Valley, Maidenhead, Milton Keynes, Newbury. Custody facilities in Thames Valley Police were last inspected in 2013.
  7. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Raymond Li (HMICFRS Press Office) on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.