#015/2013 Police custody in Essex – generally positive, but some improvements could be made

Police custody provision in Essex had improved after recent moves to manage it centrally, but staffing levels needed to be addressed, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection.

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody. It looked at nine custody suites operating 24 hours a day: Basildon, Braintree, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Grays, Harlow, Rayleigh and Southend. It also looked at one part-time suite at Stansted Airport. The custody operation had been centralised less than a year before the inspection and benefits were being seen, but there was still progress to make in some areas.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • sergeants were skilful in assessing and managing risk while detainees were in custody;
  • staff treated detainees with kindness, although the actual care offered was inconsistent;
  • there was an appropriate focus on the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE);
  • there was a reasonable primary health care service, with prompt response to call-outs and the management of medicines was generally sound;
  • substance misuse services were appreciated by detainees; and
  • regular mental health diversion services were provided and more were planned, although too many people were brought into police custody under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • inadequate staffing levels needed to be addressed;
  • arrangements to ensure detainees’ safety on release were variable;
  • privacy in booking-in areas was poor and detainees sometimes stayed in handcuffs for too long after arrival;
  • staff were not always mindful of child safeguarding issues;
  • staff handover arrangements needed to be improved to ensure all key information was communicated to the incoming shift;
  • the majority of suites were tired and run down and some looked neglected;
  • the force adhered to the PACE definition of a child, treating 17-year-olds as adults, and therefore not calling for appropriate adults to be available to support them; and
  • as a result of early court cut-off times, some detainees were held far longer in police custody than would otherwise be necessary.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“In summary, the force has begun to take the opportunities presented by central management, but staffing levels were not always adequate to ensure safe and decent management of detainees. The refurbishment programme needed to continue to bring all the suites up to an acceptable standard. The report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner to improve provision further. 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 19 June 2013 at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmi-prisons/police-cell
  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. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary 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 7-11 January 2013.
  5. In all other UK law and international treaty obligations, 17-year-olds are treated as children. In April 2013, the High Court ruled that the PACE definition was incompatible with human rights law.
  6. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 enables a police officer to remove someone from a public place and take them to a place of safety – for example, a police station. It also states clearly that the purpose of being taken to the place of safety is to enable the person to be examined by a doctor and interviewed by an approved social worker, and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
  7. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMIP Press Office) on 020 7035 2123 or 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC Press Office) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information or to request an interview.