Mixed reaction from inspectors into state of Northumbria's police cells

Northumbria Police praised for treatment of those in police custody but warned to improve recording systems

Police cell
Police cell

Inspectors have given a mixed reaction to the state of police cells across the Northumbria Police area.

In a report published yesterday, Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, praised the force for its treatment of those in custody, as well as efforts to make sure young people were kept out of detention cells.

But the report also highlighted a need to improve recording of information for those detainees who could be “at risk”, as well as questioning varied levels of cleanliness in medical rooms.

Across the force area, Northumbria has some 251 cells, or custody suites. The largest number are at South Shields police station, with 30 cells, followed by Newcastle’s Etal Lane station, with 28.

The inspections were carried out by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary between February 4 and 12 this year.

Yesterday’s report praised the good condition the cells were kept in, as well as highlighting the opening of new custody suites across the area. The force was also recognised for the help it gave in keeping those with mental illnesses out of custody, as well as supporting detainees with a history of drug problems.

Mr Hardwick said: “This report describes some good individual care of detainees but some processes to ensure this happened on a consistent basis required improvement.”

Issues of concern highlighted include concerns over custody recording systems which involved a mix of paper and computer records. Inspectors felt this allowed opportunities for human error.

Concerns were also raised that there was not sufficient focus on learning from adverse incidents, which included past Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Investigations.

The report stated: “In most cases, risk assessments were routine and mechanistic; handovers could be subject to incorrect recording of risk information.”

Last year, the IPCC launched investigations following the death of two men in separate incidents at cells in the Northumbria Force area.

Stephen Berry, 43, died in custody at Washington Police Station on Saturday, March 30 last year, after being arrested by Northumbria Police.

Just a week earlier, the IPCC revealed they were looking into the death of Martin Leck, 34, who had died after being held in a police cell in South Shields.

Mr Hardwick added: “We expect our findings to be considered in the context of priorities and resourcing, and for an action plan to be provided.”

Northumbria’s Chief Constable Sue Sim said: “I acknowledge the report and am disappointed by some of the findings therefore I have ensured immediate action has started to implement both the recommendations and advice contained within the report.

“When people are brought into custody they enter into our care and their well being is our responsibility and something I take extremely seriously. ”

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said: “The report has given Northumbria Police a clear direction on what action they need to take.”

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