Friday 24th March 2023,
North Yorks Enquirer

NYPFCP to re-examine NYP Custody facilities

NYPFCP to re-examine NYP Custody facilities

by TIM HICKS

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Introduction

The North Yorkshire Police, Fire & Crime Panel (NYPFCP) is the body charged with holding Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Zoē Metcalfe (pictured above) to account.

The NYPFCP questioned Commissioner Metcalfe over the provision of Custody Suites in North Yorkshire at a meeting on the 13th of October 2022. This can be seen here (at 11 minutes). North Yorkshire Police (NYP) has Custody Suites in York (24 cells), Harrogate (16 cells) and Scarborough (17 cells). The Custody Suites in Skipton and Selby were closed prior to 2015 and the suites at Ripon and Northallerton were closed in about 2017. The Whitby Custody Suite has been closed for many years.

The concern raised by the Panel was that the distances arrested prisoners had to be transported to a Custody Suite deterred Officers from making arrests, because it took out two Police Officers for up to four hours to deliver arrestees and return to their duty area.

Commissioner Metcalfe responded that the recent HMICFRS Custody Inspection had raised no concerns about the transporting of detainees to Custody Suites.

The Chair of the meeting was Councillor Peter Wilkinson. He was apparently happy with Commissioner Metcalfe’s response and allowed the meeting to move on to the issue of NYP’s response to burglaries.

Commissioner Metcalfe exposed by the NYE

In my article NYP Custody Scandal: Complete failure of oversight I revealed that HMICFRS has confirmed that its Custody inspection did not cover the locations of the Custody Suites and the effect that transportation distances have on Police manpower, as raised in the meeting. Hence the reason it raised no concerns about this issue. It couldn’t, because it is outside its terms of reference as specified in the HMIC Expectations for Police Custody: Criteria for assessing the treatment of and conditions for detainees in Police Custody.

I asserted in the article that:

“Commissioner Metcalfe appeared to have misled the NYPFCP on the findings of the inspection, by asserting that this issue had been reviewed by HMICFRS and found to be satisfactory, when in fact it had not.

Commissioner Metcalfe also conveniently failed to inform the NYPFCP that the HMICFRS report had been highly critical of NYP’s custody arrangements, identifying two areas of concern, fifteen areas for improvement with sixty individual points of improvement across the full range of custody activities.

No one on the NYPFCP raised the findings of the inspection with Commissioner Metcalfe or challenged her on them.”

And that:

the NYPCP has failed to hold the Commissioner to account.”

A damning criticism of the NYPCP, which exists specifically to hold Commissioner Metcalfe to account and had obviously not even read the HMICFRS 2022 Custody Inspection report.

Commissioner Metcalfe called back for further questioning about NYPs custody arrangements

The NYPCP was severely criticised in my article, but I sent it a draft of the article on 21st October to give it the opportunity of making a comment. None was forthcoming prior to publication.

I was therefore surprised to receive the following media statement from Councillor Peter Wilkinson on the 2nd of November:

“Following the issue raised by Councillor Wilkinson at the last meeting of the Police, Fire and Crime Panel on 13th October regarding custody provision, Councillor Wilkinson considers that the matter was not fully concluded in that discussion and as such intends to raise additional queries at the next Panel meeting in January.”

The delay in responding to my request for media comment was due to Councillor Wilkinson and another member of staff having taken leave at different points following the meeting on 13th October. They had only had the opportunity to review my email together on 2nd November.

Councillor Wilkinson did not indicate his intention to raise “additional queries” at the meeting on 13th October. He appeared satisfied with the explanations Commissioner Metcalfe provided in the meeting, which were subsequently exposed as being misleading by the NYE’s investigation.

So I think it is obvious that the NYE’s coverage has led Councillor Wilkinson to re-open the subject of custody provision in North Yorkshire.

The importance of having a vibrant local media that scrutinises public bodies

The NYE’s analysis of the HMICFRS Custody Inspection report has apparently been helpful to the Panel and convinced it to re-examine this issue. Commissioner Metcalfe is to be recalled for a second appearance, so she can be properly held to account.

This demonstrates the importance of having a local media outlet that provides incisive cutting-edge journalism to its readership.

I think it is highly commendable that members of the NYPFCP read the NYE. This means they are not solely dependent on the NYP “good news only” website and the Commissioner. This helps ensure they have access to a wider range of views and a more realistic idea of what is actually going on.

I also think it is also commendable that Councillor Wilkinson has responded to my request for a media comment. This shows that the NYPCP is responsive to concerns raised in the local media.

Summary

Some of the failings identified by the Custody Inspection are potentially life threatening. Some of them relate to the sexual abuse of female detainees. (NYE exposure here: Custody 3). Some recommendations from the 2008 and 2015 inspections have been repeated in the 2022 inspection, but there is still no sign of them being implemented. The Commissioner’s Independent Custody Volunteers appear to be completely ineffective (NYE exposure here: Custody 2) and ACC Foskett has issued a statement on the force website to the people of North Yorkshire about the NYP custody inspection that is completely misleading (NYE exposure here: Custody 1).

This is clearly a much wider issue than the lack of Custody Suite facilities in the northern part of the county. Yet Commissioner Metcalfe has not been challenged on it in any way by the NYPCP. I have therefore asked Councillor Wilkinson to raise all the failings identified in the NYE’s investigation with Commissioner Metcalfe during the meeting in January.

The NYE will cover the meeting on Thursday 12th January and report back to our readers on the NYPCP’s response in due course.

Appeal for Information

If you have had a bad experience in NYP custody, please let the NYE know using the letters@nyenquirer.uk email address

Right of Reply

If you are mentioned in this article and do not agree with the views expressed in it, or if you wish to correct any factual inaccuracy, please let me know using the letters@nyenquirer.uk email address and your views and a correction will be published if appropriate.

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