Police custody cell

Police forced to lock up children due to lack of alternatives

10 September 2018
  • A lack of suitable accommodation for children in London often means there is no option but to keep a child in a police cell, sometimes overnight.
  • Vulnerable adults held in custody could be left at risk because no-one has responsibility to provide them with an Appropriate Adult.
  • Between January 2017 and January 2018, 1,295 children aged under 18 were charged and detained in police custody by the Met. Some of these were detained overnight.
  • With rising demand for healthcare services in custody, frontline workers are feeling the stretch.

The London Assembly Police and Crime Committee has called on the Mayor and borough councils to urgently work together to provide suitable accommodation suitable for children detained in the capital.

The committee has long had concerns about the availability and quality of healthcare in the Met’s custody suites, especially regarding children and vulnerable adults.

The report released today recommends the Mayor use his powers and influence to ensure that:

•Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) should, as part of its review of custody healthcare arrangements, carries out a robust assessment of the need for secure and non-secure accommodation for detained children and young people across London.

•By the end of 2018, MOPAC and London Councils develop a plan for improvement towards reducing the number of children kept in custody.

•MOPAC should conduct an urgent feasibility study for a London-wide Appropriate Adults scheme, like the one it runs for Independent Custody Visitors. In the meantime, MOPAC should increase awareness among the public of the opportunities to volunteer as Appropriate Adults.

Caroline Pidgeon, MBE, of the Police and Crime Committee, said:

“We examined the provision of healthcare for people in custody four years ago and although significant positive progress has been made, there is still more to do.

“We are especially concerned about the experiences of children being held in police cells. We are disappointed by the apparent lack of action to improve the provision of alternative accommodation for children in custody, especially given the priority MOPAC assigns to child protection.

“We urge the Mayor, MOPAC, London Councils and the London Safeguarding Children Board to urgently find a solution. The current situation of children in police cells overnight is unacceptable and shames our justice system.

“We owe it as a basic matter of human compassion to ensure that vulnerable adults, some with serious mental health issues, receive medical assistance in a timely manner in custody.

“London also needs the right accommodation for detained children, and Londoners need to know that they can help by becoming a volunteer advocate.”

Notes to editors

1.      Caroline Pidgeon, MBE, of the Police and Crime Committee, is available for interview – see contact details below.

2.      In January 2015, the Met centralised its custody arrangements and established ‘Met Detention’ to manage its operations. But crucially the promised trasfer of commissioning function to the NHS, expected to lead to significant improvements, was cancelled so now those detained face a ‘postcode lottery’ of healthcare services across London.

3.      The Police and Crime Committee’s 2014 report ‘Falling short: the Met’s healthcare of detainees in custody’, revealed the Met was struggling to provide adequate medical staffing to assess and treat detainees in their custody suites. It also showed there was a “major problem” with the recruitment and retention of healthcare staff.

4.      There is a shortage of secure accommodation for young people in the capital. There are six units across the country, none of them within the M25 region.

5.      The government’s Concordat on children in custody - Guidance for police forces and local authorities in England on their responsibilities towards children in custody.

6.      A Custody Nurse Practitioner is a nurse who makes clinical assessments, identifies and implements interventions, collects forensic samples, provides advice and guidance to other staff, and keeps detailed records to ensure the safety and wellbeing of detainees.  A Forensic Medical Examiner is an ‘on-call’ doctor who provides care for detainees and advises on their fitness for detention, interview and discharge.

7.      Between April 2017 and March 2018, more than 160,000 people were detained in police custody in London.

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