Police custody in Cambridgeshire – generally impressive care but concerns remain over strategic governance

The Scales of Jutice, Old Bailey- By James Cridland via Flickr

Detainees in custody in Cambridgeshire were held in reasonably good physical conditions with “generally impressive” care and attention from staff, inspectors found in 2017.

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Cambridgeshire – Joint inspection of police custody

Cambridgeshire Constabulary had improved its work in relation to mental health since a previous inspection in 2011, ensuring that few people were detained in police cells as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act. Inspectors were also reassured to find that Cambridgeshire could demonstrate that the use of force in custody was proportionate and the required governance and scrutiny processes were in place. Overall, the report noted, “the picture surrounding the use of force in custody was positive and, while it reflected what we expect to see, we do not often find this.”

Publishing a report on an unannounced inspection in August 2017, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and HM Inspector of Constabulary, Dru Sharpling, said: “We found that detainees in custody were held in reasonably good physical conditions. It was clear that the staff culture remained healthy and we were generally impressed with the care and attention that staff showed towards detainees.”

They made clear their concerns in a largely positive inspection centred on the complex governance arrangements for custody in Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire Constabulary had entered into a formal collaboration with the neighbouring Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces, under section 22A of the Police Act 1996, in which Hertfordshire took lead responsibility for provision of custody. The inspection found, and this was acknowledged by the force, that there were ‘gaps in engagement and scrutiny at senior officer level between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Constabularies” resulting in a lack of accountability by Cambridgeshire for the delivery of its custody services.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said: “Given the complicated governance structure, and because procedures were in a state of transition, we did not believe that Cambridgeshire had sufficient governance and control over its day-to-day custody function.” Inspectors were also concerned to find that minimum staffing levels within custody suites in Cambridgeshire were not always complied with. “Staff cover was sometimes not sufficient to ensure safe detention, and this could have had an adverse impact on detainees.”

Overall, Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling, said:

“We found many positive features in the way that custody services operated, delivering good frontline outcomes for detainees in a number of key areas. However, at a strategic level we had concerns that the weaknesses identified in our 2011 inspection remained, and that, in practice, the collaborative arrangements for custody services did not provide sufficient accountability at senior officer level in Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Until this is addressed, we believe that this will remain a block to the custodial function in Cambridgeshire becoming even better.”

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Cambridgeshire – Joint inspection of police custody


  1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  2. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
  3. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies.
  4. HMICFRS will inspect all 45 fire and rescue services in England.
  5. This joint custody suite inspection was carried out between 7-18 August 2017.
  6. This report is part of a programme of unannounced inspections of police custody carried out jointly by the two inspectorates and which form a key part of the joint work programme of the criminal justice inspectorates. These inspections also contribute to the United Kingdom’s response to its international obligation to ensure regular and independent inspection of all places of detention. The inspections look at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.
  7. Inspector visited suites in Huntingdon, King’s Lynn in Norfolk, March, Parkside in Cambridge and Thorpe Wood, in Peterborough.
  8. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Raymond Li (HMICFRS Press Office) on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.


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