Cheshire’s custody suites judged by inspectors to be 'very good overall'

Custody in the Cheshire Constabulary area was found by inspectors to be "very good overall" with a number of strengths and areas of commendable practice.

However, Inspectors made one recommendation to address a key cause of concern - that the force must ensure that all its practices comply with the Police and Criminal Evidence and its codes of practice - and highlighted an additional 19 areas for improvement.

Inspectors who visited unannounced in September 2018 found that the force was "properly focused on the good treatment of detainees".

The leadership and accountability for custody services in Cheshire were good, with a clear objective to divert children and vulnerable people away from custody. Inspectors noted "There was also a strategic focus on reducing reoffending, which was unusual to find in our inspections of police custody."

Additionally, there were sufficient numbers of custody staff and they were well trained, though the lack of visibility and oversight from custody inspectors was a weakness. Some aspects of the way Cheshire Constabulary worked with partners on medical care were commended by inspectors as good practice.

The report also noted that Cheshire "engaged well with partner agencies, particularly to divert children and people experiencing mental ill health from custody. The lack of capacity of the relevant external services meant that outcomes for children were not always good enough. However, services for mentally unwell people were coordinated and generally effective." Like many police forces inspected, Cheshire struggled to find alternative overnight accommodation for children arrested, taken into custody and refused bail.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services identified one cause of concern. The report explained: "There were also some notable areas where the force did not comply with codes C and G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) for the detention, treatment and questioning of suspects, particularly the conduct and recording of reviews of detention."

There were also several areas requiring improvement – some relating to aspects of record-keeping which did not reflect the quality of what inspectors saw in practice.

Overall, though, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said "This was a very good inspection. We found that the constabulary was properly focused on the good treatment of detainees and had made progress since our last inspection in 2013. Notwithstanding the many positive features, we identified one cause of concern and several areas requiring improvement, which we were confident that the force would be able to address."

Chief Inspector Rob Dickinson said: "We are proud of the service we provide in our custody suites across Cheshire. We have a dedicated team of officers and staff who are committed to ensuring that all those who end up in custody are treated with dignity and respect, have access to everything they need and that those who are vulnerable have any additional support they may need.

"Overall, this is an extremely positive report for the force and it is encouraging to see that the efforts of all those involved in the custody process on a daily basis are recognised.

"A number of areas of good practice are highlighted and we will make sure that these continue. There is one recommendation made and some areas for improvement and work to address these issues is already underway."

Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire David Keane, added: "This glowing report of Cheshire's custody suites is testament to the hard work of police officers and staff who work in the units and to the dedication of volunteer Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) who give up their free time to ensure detainees are treated with respect and have access to appropriate facilities.

"ICVs act as 'critical friends' providing me with invaluable feedback on the welfare of detainees from an independent, impartial and non-discriminatory view of all parties involved in the custody process.

"Over the last year, ICVs made a total of 150 unannounced visits to custody suites across Cheshire, offering to check on the welfare of 1,189 detainees. I am extremely grateful for their commitment and support in ensuring the standards of our custody suites remain at a good level."

During its inspection HMICFRS visited all three custody suites in Runcorn, Middlewich and Chester. They also met with a number of custody sergeants, inspectors and detention officers who work across the three sites.