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West Mercia under fresh pressure from HMI over custody suites

A force is facing fresh criticism for failing to implement changes demanded by HMIC in 2014.

West Mercia is under fresh pressure for its performance after a review found problems with its custody services.

HM Inspectorate found the force doesn’t always meet legal requirements and has still yet to address issues raised by an inspection  in 2014.

An unannounced inspection found major areas of concern including vulnerable detainees under the influence of alcohol or drugs being taken off observation too quickly.

Alarmingly, inspectors found potential ligature points in most custody suites and cleanliness levels were criticised.

Concern were also raised that some children are spending too long in custody.

Governance of use of force was described as poor and access to washing facilities is limited.

The force was ordered to make improvements in 16 areas following the review carried out jointly with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).

It comes just a week after West Mercia was rated by HMIC as "requires improvement" following a wider PEEL review.

HMIC raised concerns over how the force responds to the public, how it supervises and investigates crime, the effectiveness of force IT and the accuracy of its data.

Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said the current custody arrangements are far from good.

“Our inspection identified some critical weaknesses in how custody is provided to make sure detainees are kept safe and treated and cared for well,” she said.

“Some of the recommendations from our last inspection in 2014 have not been achieved or have only partly been achieved, leaving some important areas of custody requiring urgent attention – including management oversight of custody, governance and oversight of the use of force, risk management and detainee care. These are now causes of concern.”

But she added the senior management team was already taking action so HMIC believed conditions were likely to improve.

West Mercia said its custody managers were now working with HMI to improve training and custody suite facilities.

Assistant Chief Constable Richard Cooper said: “We know there are still improvements we need to make and have already put in place an urgent action plan to address the critical weaknesses identified by the report.

“Prior to the inspection, funding had been secured from our Police and Crime Commissioner to update our CCTV and custody infrastructure systems, such as fire alarm systems and cell intercoms.”

He added: “We welcome HMI’s confidence that our custody services will improve and are committed to delivering significant improvements over the next 12 months.”

It was one of two forces that was told its custody suites aren’t up to scratch.

North Wales Police was rated as having improved its custody services, but the force was told further changes are needed to ensure the safety of detainees.

Custody teams were praised for their understanding of vulnerable people but the force was told improvements need to be made in four areas including monitoring vulnerable detainees.

Ms Williams said: “Custody staff are respectful, calm and confident when dealing with detainees. The force is committed to diverting children and vulnerable adults away from custody.

“However, we still have concerns in some areas. We will be working closely with North Wales Police and monitoring its progress against our new recommendations.”

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