Too many children detained for too long in north London custody
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has been criticised after far too many children were found to be kept in custody overnight. The force lacks a central focus on diverting young people from the criminal justice system, according to a review of custody suites across nine north London boroughs. An inspection, led by HM inspectors of prisons and constabulary, claimed officers are generally aware they should avoid detaining children where possible but their options are limited by a lack of diversion schemes. However, it added that detainees are mostly treated well and inspectors were confident the force can easily address these findings. In a joint statement, they said: Too many children who were charged and refused bail remained in custody overnight, and sometimes the weekend, when they should have been moved to alternative accommodation provided through the local authority. The MPS was some way behind other forces in developing the necessary strategic links to make progress in this area. Nearly 450 children were charged and had bail across the nine clusters refused in the 12 months to the end of May this year. Of these, 310 had requests for appropriate accommodation made but only three children were moved. Children charged and bailed spent an average of 11 and a half hours in custody, with this stretching even longer if they were kept over the weekend. The report recommends the MPS agree arrangements with local authorities to provide more suitable alternative accommodation. Despite these problems the majority of children and vulnerable people were dealt with in a reassuring way. Custody conditions were generally positive although girls are not routinely allocated a female officer as most staff were unaware of this requirement. Inspectors were also pleased to find the MPS has taken action to minimise potential ligature points in its custody suites, and has improved its service for detainees with mental ill health. Some issues were found in the way Police and Criminal Evidence Act reviews being carried out at officers convenience rather than for the benefit of detainees, but the report said these will be easy to resolve. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: Despite the areas highlighted that require attention, overall this was a positive inspection and, given the initial reaction to our findings, we are confident that the MPS has the capacity and commitment to work constructively on the improvements required. A MPS spokesperson said: We recognise the issues raised by the prisons inspectors and are already taking steps to address the findings and recommendations through the implementation of an improvement plan. We recognise police custody can be a daunting and intimidating experience for children, custody suites are designed to provide a safe and secure environment for detainees and our suites are regularly inspected.