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Independent group examines care in custody

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AN independent group established by Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire, Matthew Ellis, has examined the care of detainees in custody.

The Ethics, Transparency and Audit Panel (ETAP) were asked to review the processes and procedures in place for the care of detainees in custody following historic deaths in custody, one in 2011 and the other in 2014.

This comes at a time when Mr Ellis says he is determined to eradicate the use of police cells as a place of safety for people with mental health issues. He is going a step further and his policy goes beyond the law changes, to stop use completely.

As part of their latest report ETAP looked at the detention process and the way detainees are booked into custody. They also observed the risk assessments that are completed in order to ascertain the level of observation required and whether a detainee is in need of any medical or mental health assessments.

ETAP looked at the healthcare provision within the custody facilities and observed the arrangements for people with mental ill health. They looked at the Mental Health Act (1983) and the procedures followed by Custody Detention Officers if someone requires a mental health assessment while in custody. The panel observed that due to availability of nurses or doctors to carry out assessments, this process has been known to take up to nine hours, well outside the agreed time allowance.

Mr Ellis said: ‘ETAP’s report is timely given that I am highlighting the new legal restriction of 24 hours maximum in custody for a person with mental ill health. This is welcome but in my view doesn’t go far enough. The new law places a complete ban on using cells as a place of safety for under 18s, which is right, but that should be the same for everyone in those circumstances, no matter what age.

‘This report highlights the need for this law, with the process for a mental health assessment having taken up to nine hours in some cases. People suffering mental ill health need to be in a place of care, not in custody.

‘I am pleased that ETAP’s findings show people being held in custody in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are being well looked after by Police Officers, Custody Sergeants and Custody Detention Officers.

‘Their scrutiny backs up the vital work of our Independent Custody Visitors who do a fantastic job of checking on the welfare of detainees and the conditions of police cells and custody suites. They make a difference, not just to people in custody, but in promoting public confidence in the system which is essential to making Staffordshire safer.’

ETAP was launched under the ‘New Dawn of Transparency’ agenda by Mr Ellis and aims for policing in Staffordshire to be the most open and transparent in the country. Seven members of the public sit on ETAP and meet regularly to monitor the work of police including how crime is recorded, how complaints from the public are dealt with and the use of Taser and ‘stop and search’ powers.

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