Custody inspection is ‘misleading’ say police

Blackpool's 'dilapidated' custody suite

Blackpool's 'dilapidated' custody suite

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Lancashire Police has hit out at a ‘misleading’ a critical report into the county’s custody facilities.

The force was criticised for failing to build on previous progress in the way they held people in custody.

Martin Lomas, deputy chief inspector of prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM inspector of constabulary, published the report, based on unannounced inspections, which found a number of concerns at custody facilities across the county.

Among the issued raised were:

n A lack of policy or proper oversight about the way force was used in the custody suites and no data about the extent of its use, making it impossible to determine whether practices were sound.

n Worries that CCTV coverage in cells was still not pixellated, meaning people in the control area had a clear view of detainees using the toilet.

n Concerns that insufficient data was being gathered and only limited monitoring was carried out, meaning the force could not identify patterns, making it difficult to learn lessons and improve.

n Effective application of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) was not always consistent and children remained in custody too long.

n The lack of mental health beds meant some unwell detainees remained in custody for too long, despite officers’ commitment to ensuring police custody was not used as a place of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

n The physical environment in older facilities remained inadequate.

n Pre-release support for detainees varied considerably, but it was difficult to reach a clear judgement because of weaknesses in record-keeping.

Blackpool’s custody suite, which is due to be replaced next year as part of a £21m new police headquarters, came in for particular criticism, described by inspectors as ‘dilapidated’.

The report said: “The interior was showing its age and looked dilapidated. The low ceilings and dark floors created a dark and oppressive environment.

“There was peeling paint on some of the walls and floors, and the cells did not meet current safety standards. Scraps of paper were used to cover the viewing panel in the cell doors to give detainees some privacy, including from other detainees, which contributed to the unkempt environment. Open drains on corridors were full of stagnant water. Ten prefabricated cells had been added to the custody suite structure; these were clean and more comfortable and safer for detainees.”

Lancashire Police has acknowledged custody facilities at Blackpool’s Bonny Street police station are not suitable and work is expected to begin next month on new facilities in Clifton Road.

The report was not entirely critical of the force.

Inspectors were pleased to find that custody staff mostly behaved in a courteous and professional manner with detainees, at a strategic level there had been useful collaborative work with partner agencies and detainees said they were content with healthcare provided, and mental health support was particularly good.

Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said: “This was a disappointing inspection. The force had failed to build on the progress we identified previously. With generally-good treatment of detainees and mostly reasonable conditions, the fundamental building blocks remained intact.

“ However, there was a clear need for the force to develop and improve the infrastructure supporting custody, so that outcomes for all detainees are always good enough.”

Lancashire Police insists it remains committed to ensuring everybody taken into custody is treated with the greatest respect.

A spokesman said: “We recognise the value inspection reports can bring to help us improve our service and hopefully reassure the public about what we do.

“Within this joint inspectorate report there are definitely areas identified where we can learn and improve and as ever we will strive to do just that. We want the standards in our custody suites to be as high as they can be.

“There are elements of this report which we feel could be potentially misleading and contradictory and it’s a shame some of the verbal feedback we received during the inspection, such as the behaviour of our staff being described as “exceptional” has not made it into the written report.

“We simply do not recognise the general portrayal of a lack of respect and dignity displayed by our staff who day-in, day-out do an extraordinary job dealing with vulnerable and often very challenging individuals in an unpredictable environment. Their primary concern is always the safety and well-being of those individuals.

“We have worked to procure and develop new IT and CCTV systems, at significant cost, which will help address the majority of the areas of concern raised. The IT system, requiring massive changes to the way we work, was introduced in the final days of this inspection.

“We do not believe our staff in general use force itself in a disproportionate manner.

“We remain committed to ensuring that everyone who comes into our custody is treated with courtesy and respect, and that the highest standards of safety are maintained.”