#010/2013 – Border Force customs custody suites in England and Scotland – Health services needed attention

Border Force customs custody suites across England and Scotland needed to focus on improving health services, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection.

The inspection was the first in a programme of inspections of Border Force customs custody suites. It covered the network of custody suites known as ‘spine suites’, with cells similar to those in police custody suites, at Birmingham, Colnbrook (Heathrow), Dover, Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow. It also covered ‘interview suites’, insecure rooms where suspects are detained for very short periods, at Harwich, Luton, Stansted, St Pancras and Edinburgh. Spine suites are generally used by Border Force to detain people suspected of illegally importing controlled drugs or other goods with a criminal intent of evading excise.

The illegal importation of controlled drugs often involves the suspect ingesting them in sealed packages to avoid normal search procedures. Spine suites are equipped with specially adapted and supervised toilets where suspects can be detained until the body naturally excretes the packages. This report focuses mainly on spine suites.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there were very experienced staff in some of the busier spine suites;
  • staff interacted well with detainees; and
  • the legal rights of detainees (under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in England) were respected.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • health services had developed to a varying extent across the regions, and were not governed by national standards or monitoring;
  • staff with little or no training or recent experience were brought in on the rare occasions that some of the less busy suites were opened;
  • procedures for the assessment and management of risk and the provision of appropriate facilities for detainees were undeveloped and inconsistent across the range of suites; and
  • physical environments varied in their suitability.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Health services presented the greatest organisational risk. Several key areas needed attention as a priority. This report provides a number of recommendations to assist Border Force to improve provision. We expect our findings to be considered in the wider context of priorities and resourcing and for an action plan to be provided in due course.”


Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 01 May 2013 at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmi-prisons/border-force-customs-custody-suites-inspections
  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. HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 10-19 December 2012.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMIP Press Office) on 020 7035 2123 or 07880 787452 or Ruth Allman (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information or to request an interview.