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Custody cell inspection in Thames Valley finds 'serious safety issues and significant risks to detainees'

Custody cells in the Thames Valley suffer from ‘serious safety issues and significant risks to detainees’ that police have not managed sufficiently, a report has found.

The HM Inspectorate of Prisons document also found cell watches were ‘not always adequate’ and that ‘governance and oversight of the use of force in custody were not adequate’.

Thames Valley Police did not record all instances when force was used in custody suites, ‘very little detail on the rationale and techniques used’ was noted and ‘not all uses of force were proportionate to the risk or threat posed’.

The report, which was released on Wednesday, also found the inspection was ‘generally positive’ and Thames Valley Police had a ‘strong and focused governance structure that provided appropriate accountability for custody’.

A statement released by HM Inspectorate of Prisons with the report said: “This inspection of custody facilities in Thames Valley was generally positive.

“The force had demonstrated some progress following our last inspection, especially in health services, and could evidence positive practice.

“With respect to the significant concerns and areas for improvement we identified, we were confident that the force’s strong leadership and clear grip on performance would enable it to act effectively to address these issues.”

There were 31,829 detentions by Thames Valley Police in 2017.

Across the Thames Valley, the report notes: “Custody staff dealt well with many challenging detainees, and often de-escalated situations effectively to avoid using force.

“In most cases where force was used, the records were inconsistent and not always in line with recommendations from the National Police Chiefs Council.

“Governance of the use of force in custody was not sufficiently rigorous.

“Strip searches were properly authorised but were not always conducted robustly enough.”

Fewer than half of detainees held for more than 24 hours were offered a shower and shoes were ‘routinely removed and replacements were not always given’.

But the report also found the force worked ‘well with a range of partner agencies to

divert vulnerable people from custody’.

Following the last inspection of custody facilities in 2013, just seven recommendations made by the inspectorate had been achieved.

Nine had been partially achieved and eight were not.

Two recommendations were no longer considered relevant.

Superintendent Katy Barrow-Grint, head of Thames Valley Police criminal justice, said she would review the report’s findings.

An ‘interim plan’ to address issues raised has been put into place, including reviewing the training for conducting searches, she added.

She noted the positives outlined in the report.

“We will act on any learning from this report and welcome the recognition of the progress made since the last report and the findings of this inspection which are generally positive,” she added.

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