North Wales Police “often” uses force on people in its custody, including to remove clothing, according to a new report.

The finding was made on a surprise inspection of the force’s custody suites by HMICFRS, the independent body charged with regulating police in Wales and England, in November last year.

The inspection report, published on Wednesday (April 20), identified a number of “causes for concern” in North Wales Police practices, including the use of force against people in custody.

The custody suites - areas in police stations used to detain people who have been arrested - are located in Llay outside Wrexham, St Asaph and Caernarfon.

“We found that force was often used in custody, and often to forcibly remove clothing from detainees,” the inspection report notes.

“It is difficult for North Wales Police to show that when force is used in custody, it is necessary and proportionate. 

“In some of the cases we saw on CCTV, it is our view that it wasn’t.”

Oversight on the use of force by North Wales officers, HMICFRS says, “isn’t good enough”, with information on what kind of force was used, by which officers, and why, often missing or inaccurate.

“The quality of recording on custody records is poor,” the report goes on.

“Some entries are detailed, but important information was missing from some records. 

The National Wales: North Wales Police stations at Llay (left), Caernarfon (right) and St Asaph (bottom). (Pictures: Google Maps) North Wales Police stations at Llay (left), Caernarfon (right) and St Asaph (bottom). (Pictures: Google Maps)

“This includes, for example, the justification for removing detainees’ clothing.”

The removal of people’s clothing in North Wales Police custody is raised as an issue multiple times in the report, with custody officers “routinely” doing so but “rarely” recording any justification for it.

The practice was carried out in a “disrespectful” manner, it says, with clothing sometimes left in corridors.

In some instances, detainees appeared to be stripped in order to put them in anti-rip clothing designed to prevent suicide attempts.

“Anti-rip clothing continues to be used frequently, often without adequate rationale,” HMICFRS notes.

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“On occasions, this appears pre-emptive and in many cases is justified only because the detainee didn’t answer risk assessment questions. 

“This is a risk averse approach, which often leads to clothing being unnecessarily and forcibly removed.”

Other concerns highlighted in the report included failures to explain to detainees the reason for their arrest and detention, along with failing to explain their rights and entitlements.

Custody officers, the report says, were sometimes involved in investigations in a way that compromised the independence of their role, and the force's approach to complaints was "poor" - with people in custody not always told how they could make a complaint, or given the opportunity to do so before their release.

“Provision for people with disabilities is inconsistent,” the report adds.

“We are not assured that appropriate adults are always called for vulnerable adults who may need one.

“Detainees are rarely asked if they have any religious needs and the stock of religious materials is limited.”

A significant proportion of people that come into contact with police are disabled.

According to the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, around a third of UK prisoners have at least a mild learning disability, and 60 percent have communication difficulties - either in understanding other people, expressing themselves, or both.

People with autism are also vastly overrepresented in the prison population.

The National Wales: Methadone syrup is often used to treat heroin and other opiate addictions. (Picture: Abulic Monkey, CC BY 2.0.)Methadone syrup is often used to treat heroin and other opiate addictions. (Picture: Abulic Monkey, CC BY 2.0.)

HMICFRS report also noted that Opiate Substitution Therapy - providing methadone for people with addictions in custody - was not part of the North Wales Police healthcare provision contract.

“This is poor and isn’t in line with national guidance,” HMICFRS said.

The force was praised for some aspects of its service, including its efforts to avoid taking children into custody, its provision of services in Welsh, and its speed booking people into custody.

Chris Allsop, Assistant Chief Constable for North Wales Police, said: “The force looks after the needs and welfare of around 10,000 people who are taken into custody each year, so it was pleasing to read that most detainees the Inspectors talked to spoke highly of the care given to them, especially those who were vulnerable or distressed who said that the staff were excellent.

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“The force was also recognised for our commitment to diverting children and vulnerable adults away from custody, as well as providing good support and care for children and individuals with mental health needs when they are in custody.

“However, we do need to improve and take the areas of concern highlighted by the Inspectors very seriously and work is already being undertaken to address the issues flagged as a concern in this report, including addressing the concerns relating to the legislation and guidance.

“We also recognise that we can make improvements in custody relating to our use of force, recording, monitoring and scrutiny.”

Mr Allsop added that “immediate measures were taken” when HMICFRS raised concerns about the forcible removal of people’s clothing in custody during its inspection.

“Work continues by the Force to make further improvements in this area and will be monitored by the Police and Crime Commissioner.”

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