Warwickshire and West Mercia police custody – a mixed picture

There were some weaknesses in the management of police custody in Warwickshire and West Mercia, 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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Warwickshire and West Mercia – joint inspection of police custody suites

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody. Warwickshire and West Mercia police forces formed a strategic alliance in 2013 that included streamlining their custody suites into one operation. West Mercia police custody suites were previously inspected in December 2009, and Warwickshire police custody in October 2009. At the time of this inspection the alliance between the two forces was still embedding. Inspectors visited the custody suites at Worcester, Telford, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Kidderminster, Leamington Spa and Nuneaton.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there were no dedicated custody inspectors to line manage the custody sergeants, which created a void in accountability and oversight;
  • existing data was not used to analyse custody records, use of force or complaints to improve organisational policies and individual actions;
  • partnership arrangements to ensure that children were not held in custody overnight were not effective and in the 12 months before the inspection, 36 children had been held in cells overnight;
  • custody staff reported significant difficulties in obtaining appropriate adults for support for both children and vulnerable adults;
  • the quality of risk assessments was variable, particularly in West Mercia, and in one case a 14-year-old boy was identified as not being at risk despite his disclosure of very recent self-harm. He self-harmed within 15 minutes of being placed in a cell; and
  • there was a disproportionate use of anti-rip clothing and specific concern about the use of the emergency restraint belt.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • despite a lack of management oversight, custody sergeants and detention officers provided an adequate level of care;
  • health care was very good, with practitioners available in the suites over 24 hours;
  • there were regular strategic meetings involving senior managers representing NHS, ambulance services, local authorities and the police which were a forum for resolving emerging problems; and
  • nearly all those detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act were taken to an NHS place of safety in accord with national policy.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Overall, the creation of the custody alliance between West Mercia and Warwickshire was a sensible strategy. However, at the time of this inspection, these new arrangements were still bedding in. There were significant gaps in the management structure and despite adequate care overall, weak oversight and partnerships had led to poor management of some vulnerable detainees, in some cases including children, and the much too regular use of inappropriate and disproportionate restraint techniques. Healthcare and arrangements for detainees with severe mental health problems were generally much better and provided a model that other aspects of the custody arrangements could follow.”

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Warwickshire and West Mercia – joint inspection of police custody suites


  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 21-30 October 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.