Police custody in Northumbria – adequate, but some problems evident

Published on Thursday, 05 January 2012 11:02
Posted by Scott Buckler

Police custody provision in Northumbria needed a greater focus on risk assessment, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, publishing the report of an inspection into custody suites in Northumbria

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and covered eight 24-hour custody suites serving Newcastle (Etal Lane and Clifford Street), Sunderland (Gillbridge and Washington), South Shields, Gateshead, Bedlington and Wallsend. The inspection also covered three standby suites used as overspill (Southwick, Whickham and North Shields) and three part-time suites (Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick). Overall, there were some areas of good practice, but several important areas which needed to be addressed.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:


  • there was good strategic leadership of the custody function;
  • staffing of custody suites was adequate, as was the training provided;
  • staff were respectful in their interactions with detainees;
  • an appropriate balance was maintained between progressing cases and the rights of individuals, and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) was adhered to;
  • arrangements for managing DNA and forensic samples were good;
  • health care provision was good and medications management was excellent; and
  • substance use services were well developed.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • risk assessments of detainees received into custody were completed inconsistently;
  • booking-in arrangements allowed only limited privacy;
  • use of handcuffs was disproportionate with little consideration of risk;
  • while newer suites provided generally good conditions, some older suites were dirty, had graffiti on the walls and were poorly ventilated;
  • some elements of care and welfare relied too heavily on detainees making requests;
  • information about rights and entitlements was not universally provided;
  • there were gaps in provision for alcohol misuse; and
  • mental health diversion services varied, though Section 136 mental health provision was adequate.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Overall, police custody in Northumbria was adequate, but problems were evident in some important areas. Detainees were generally treated respectfully and their basic needs were provided for, but this was too often at the initiative of the detainee rather than custody staff. Conditions varied from good to poor, and the inconsistent application of risk assessment processes was a significant area of concern. We consider the routine use of handcuffing to be disproportionate, and more needs to be done to support those with mental health issues.

“This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police Authority 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.”

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