Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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Review of police custody facilities to remove ligature risk

Police custody facilities across England and Wales are being reviewed to remove the risk of alarm cords within toilets being used as a ligature, following our recommendation.

Concerns arose after a man was able to bite off a section of emergency cord from a disabled toilet within a custody suite, conceal it, and later use it as a ligature after he was placed in a cell. Fortunately the man was on observations requiring a check every 30 minutes, and was found in time by a detention officer. The man had become unresponsive but after medical treatment made a full recovery.

The issue was raised within an investigation report by the relevant police force which was reviewed by an IOPC casework manager. It was clear that the preventative action since taken by the force should be replicated across the police service. The IOPC therefore made a national recommendation which was readily accepted by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and work is in train to ensure the lifeline cords are replaced with an alternative means of raising alarm that cannot be used as a ligature.

Jonathan Green, IOPC Deputy Director General, yesterday said:

“Arising from a recent near-miss investigation, we have drawn attention to a risk of emergency cords in disabled toilets being used as a ligature, which has implications for many custody suites. The force concerned took urgent action and it was important the learning identified was disseminated much further for the safety of detainees. It is accepted that some people in custody can be experiencing a time of personal crisis and are therefore highly vulnerable. We are grateful the NPCC has acted swiftly and shared this knowledge widely through its custody portfolio forum, so that preventative action can be taken throughout facilities in England and Wales.”

The National Police Estates Group is also being advised to incorporate this learning into guidance for any new custody facilities or refurbishment works.

The custody incident is one of a number to feature in the IOPC’s latest Learning the Lessons magazine, which helps ensure issues raised through our work are fed in to improving policing practice. This edition focuses on the custody environment and examines a range of incidents covering common issues detention staff encounter including mental health concerns, self-harm, and substance misuse among those detained. Custody staff play a key role in dealing with the vulnerable.

The Learning the Lessons magazine is published three times a year and is available on the IOPC website.


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