West Midlands police custody – a mixed picture

West Midlands Police had made some progress in improving conditions in their custody cells, but further work was necessary, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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West Midlands– Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody which monitor the treatment of and conditions for detainees and aim to prevent ill-treatment. It was the second inspection of police custody in the West Midlands. The first inspection was in 2010 when, despite a number of issues that required attention (including ligature points, the use of force and risk assessments), inspectors found a reasonably positive picture.

On this more recent inspection, inspectors visited the custody suites at Bournville, Coventry, Perry Barr, Oldbury, Solihull and Wolverhampton, as well as contingency suites at Bloxwich, Stechford and Willenhall. They looked at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care. A number of older custody facilities had closed and two large, modern suites had opened, providing clean and bright environments. It was disappointing that only one of three significant areas raised at the last inspection, relating to risk assessments, had been addressed adequately.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there were a substantial number of potential ligature points, presenting a risk to detainees and the force;
  • there was a lack of comprehensive performance information and monitoring, making it difficult for the force and others to assess how well custody services were performing, including a lack of oversight of the use of force in custody;
  • despite good engagement by the force with safeguarding boards, too many children were detained overnight when alternative accommodation should have been provided by local authorities;
  • the health care contract was not being delivered effectively;
  • in some instances, Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) codes of practice were not complied with; and
  • arrangements for securing appropriate adults for vulnerable detainees and for releasing detainees safely were not always good enough.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there was appropriate governance in place and clear accountability for the safe delivery of custody;
  • the force paid good attention to its Public Sector Equality Duty and focused on identifying and managing vulnerability and risk;
  • custody was rarely used for the detention of people held under the Mental Health Act; and
  • detainees were generally treated compassionately and with respect.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said:

“The findings from this inspection were mixed. Many of the existing strengths remained and there had been clear progress in some areas. However, it was disappointing that over a third of the recommendations made at the previous inspection had still not been achieved. Nevertheless, the force had a clear vision for custody and we were confident that if the strategic impetus was sustained, this would result in further improvement.”

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West Midlands– 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. Custody suites are occupied by those suspected of committing crime, and may also be used to temporarily accommodate people in need of medical attention or intervention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This 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 30 January to 10 February 2017.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Candy Silver (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.