‘Use of force’ concerns in police watchdog report following custody visits

Martlesham Heath police investigation centre Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Martlesham Heath police investigation centre Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Archant

Police have promised to address concerns about the detention of suspects after an unannounced custody inspection.

Martlesham Heath police investigation centre Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Martlesham Heath police investigation centre Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Custody suites across Suffolk and Norfolk, including Martlesham Heath and Bury St Edmunds, were inspected over two weeks in May.

A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found facilities clean and well-maintained, with strong governance and accountability.

But it found failures to comply with requirements for detaining, treating and questioning suspects under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, while highlighting inadequacies around oversight of force used in custody – describing data as “unreliable” and some use of force as “disproportionate”.

Inspectors were impressed by how staff dealt with challenging detainees by defusing situations so force was not required.

Martlesham Heath police investigation centre Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Martlesham Heath police investigation centre Picture: LUCY TAYLOR


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But the constabularies lacked adequate mechanisms to ensure confidence that force was always safe and proportionate when used.

Few staff submitted forms to justify use of force, the report said, adding: “We were not always satisfied that the use of force was proportionate to the risk or threat posed; poor techniques were used, such as leaving detainees lying face-down for prolonged periods; clothing was forcibly removed without adequate justification; and handcuffs were not removed from compliant detainees at the earliest opportunity.”

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Gaps in data prevented police from identifying trends to inform learning and hold external partners to account, said the report, which otherwise praised work with other agencies to divert vulnerable people from custody.

Although the needs of detainees were generally met, inspectors saw inconsistencies in approaches to the distinct needs of women and transgendered people.

Detective chief superintendent Julie Wvendth, of Norfolk and Suffolk justice services command, said plans were in place to address concerns and recommendations, adding: “In the last year, 34,341 people were dealt with in custody across both counties (11,669 in Suffolk) and the report acknowledges detainees are treated respectfully and that staff deal with challenging situations well, often de-escalating them.

“We recognise improvements are needed for the way we record incidents involving use of force and to ensure that our procedures are fully compliant with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.”

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