Beds Police Slow To Improve Cells

7 October 2014, 06:00

An independent inspection of custody cells at Bedfordshire Police stations has found the force has been slow to make improvements.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, HMIC, made it's first inspection in August 2010 - and at that point - found poor conditions of Bedfordshire Police's custody suites and said investment was needed to raise standards.

Following an unannounced inspection, HMIC now says despite some good individual care for detainees, the lack of improvement in Bedfordshire was disappointing.

Today, Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons and Dru Sharpling the HM Inspector of Constabulary have published the report of their latest inspection.

The report's summary said: "The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Bedfordshire police custody suites. The first inspection was in August 2010, and referred to the poor conditions of the custody estate and risks concerning the cellular accommodation, arguing for investment. At this inspection, both investment and improvement were limited and the estate had significantly deteriorated. Inspectors were told, however, that the executive had recently agreed to build a new custody unit at Kempston.

The chief constable decided to close Bedford custody suite during the inspection as a consequence of inspection findings.

Inspectors were also concerned to find:  

  • Staffing levels were barely adequate, with custody staff relying on non-custody staff to complete tasks
  • Staff said there was no provision within the local authority area to accommodate children where a child was charged but not bailed, so some children remained in custody
  • Although appropriate adult services were generally reasonable, they deteriorated outside normal office hours, and all staff reported difficulties accessing appropriate adult services for vulnerable adults, meaning these detainees could be held in custody for longer than necessary.
    However, inspectors were pleased to find:
  • A new Head of Custody and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) force lead had been appointed to over see developments
  • A governance structure had been established, and was developing a process for collecting data and providing quality assurance
  • Detention periods were kept to a minimum in accordance with the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and staff handovers reflected a focus on case progression; 
  • Detainees across a range of religious and minority ethnic backgrounds said staff were respectful during their interactions
  • Staff were skilled at de-escalating some very difficult situations and engaged detainees with sensitivity, exploring issues of health and self-harm
  • Health care was improving, with good governance and accountability, and those with alcohol and substance misuse issues had access to good support services.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:
"While we recognised that new initiatives are making progress, it was disappointing that it has taken over three years and a new senior leadership team to acknowledge the lack of strategic oversight.  We noted that, of the 26 recommendations made in our previous report in 2010, seven had been achieved, four had been partially achieved and 15 had not been achieved.

This 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."

So, what has not been achieved since the 2010 inspection? HMIC found the following:

There should be sufficient staff in custody at all times to ensure the safety and well-being of detainees.
Not achieved

The force should collate the use of force and monitor for trends, for example by ethnicity, location and officer involved.
Not achieved

Cells and other detainee areas should be clean and free of ligature points, which staff should be trained to identify. Where current resources do not allow ligature points to be removed, a strategy should be put in place to manage the new risks identified.
Not achieved

Some cells should be adapted for use by detainees with physical disabilities.
Not achieved

Booking in areas should allow effective and private communication between detainees and staff.
Not achieved

Health and safety checks should be formalised and consistent across all suites and staff given sufficient
training to carry them out effectively.
Not achieved

All detainees held overnight and those who require one should be offered a shower and should be
able to take it with an appropriate degree of privacy.
Not achieved

Replacement clothing that maintains detainees’ dignity should be provided. (4.29)
Not achieved

Food provided should be of sufficient quality and calorific content to sustain detainees for the
duration of their stay.
Not achieved

Appropriate adults should be readily available to support vulnerable adults and juveniles aged 17
Not achieved

There should be no undue delays in transporting immigration detainees to placements in the
immigration custody estate.
Not achieved

Detainees should be told how to make a complaint and should be able to do this before they leave
Not achieved

There should be out-of-hours cover for mental health workers to meet the needs of detainees.
Not achieved

Health care professionals shouldn't instruct non-health care professionals to administer prescribed medicines.
Not achieved

Section 136 detainees should be held in police cells only as a last resort.
Not achieved

On publication of the report, Colette Paul, the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police told Heart: "I'm obviously very disappointed with the report, but it's a very fair report.

We've already built a new custody suite at Kempston which has been welcomed by detainees and certainly by our staff. The part I was really really pleased about is the detainees they (Inspectors) spoke to right across a range of religious and cultural backgrounds said staff were really respectful to them throughout their interactions and the detainees said they were treated very well; but also they said (police) staff were very skilful at de-escalating potential problems."

The Chief Constable said she accepted the HMIC report in full and it would "absolutely not" take a further four years to achieve all the report's recommendations and that in the long-term future, her force would be looking to work with Neighbouring forces (Hertfordshire & Cambridgeshire) to provide the very best facilities sharing with the other two forces - something they could only afford working in collaboration with Herts and Cambridgeshire Police.