Sorry … What?!

Imagine you’re the custody officer at a police station, you’re most of the way through a very busy shift in which you’ve already had a person collapse with chest pains and you’ve brought proceedings to a standstill to give attention to the arrival and intervention of paramedics and you’ve had two different people brought through who were extremely violent and resistant, detained in handcuffs with leg restraints and taken straight to a cell for searching and seclusion. You’ve made five separate decisions about whether someone should be charged and the inspector, who was busy with firearms incidents and a serious offence against a child, authorised and then delegated various things to you about intimate samples required from a rape suspect who has been in for a few hours. Oh, and you had to authorise a strip search on a female juvenile whose mother went absolutely ballistic at you despite officers finding razor blades on her in places that were highly dangerous.

It’s been busy!!

Then, a phone call comes through from the control room to say that court escort staff are bringing a prisoner to you on a judge’s directions. A man has appeared in court this morning and is now heading towards your cell block under 55 MHA. A judge has decided to use an interim hospital order under s38 of the Mental Health Act – however because of the ongoing bed crisis in the NHS, there is no mental health unit immediately available to take him. The judge has directed that he will be detained in your custody for up to 14 days whilst a bed in the mental health system is identified.

What? … WHY?! Is that even legal?! FOURTEEN DAYS!?

If you’re a police officer, this will sound fairly outrageous, but here are two facts for you.

A) It would be completely legal.
B) It actually happened, last week.

You probably did not know that s55 of the Mental Health Act defines a ‘Place of Safety’ for the purposes of Part III of the Mental Health Act? I’ll bet 50p that you didn’t – and all proceeds go to charity. Part III MHA includes all those sections concerned with the interface of our criminal justice system with our mental health system – remands for psychiatric reports / treatments; hospitals orders and interim hospital orders, as well as prison transfers of remanded as well as convicted prisoners. And right towards the end of s55 it defines a ‘Place of Safety’ very differently to the definition contained within s135(6) MHA which applies following the police application of s136 or the execution of a warrant under s135(1). A Part III PoS “in relation to a person who is not a child or young person, means any police station, prison or remand centre, or any hospital the managers of which are willing temporarily to receive him, and in relation to a child or young person has the same meaning as in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.”

So this ‘fourteen days in police custody’ idea is lawful. It is perhaps an ongoing indication of the supposed bed crisis we’ve read about that this situation has emerged. I’ve only ever heard once in fifteen years of a Part III PoS being implemented – on that occasion it was a prison and they were equally confused. So having found myself excited to learn of an odd application of the MHA, I thought I would share this with you – just on the off-chance that you are the custody sergeant at a police station the next time that some judge implements a hospital order, an interim hospital order or a restricted hospital order and then starts deciding to play around with s55 MHA.

Be advised!


IMG_0053IMG_0052Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.


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5 thoughts on “Sorry … What?!

  1. Blimey! On top of everything else custody sergeants / police have to deal with re: MH situations. I can honestly say I have knowledge of MH and Health & social services issues and have happily supported MHC and the police in general for their positive efforts to appropriately address pressing concerns. Not being intimately involved in ALL aspects of the interactions of CJ and MH law this one was new to me. My heartfelt sympathies go out to the Custody Sergeant who unfortunately caught this one.

    As you so rightly point out though, this is really down to a lack of provision / commissioning of suitable beds(placements). If they were there using a custody suite would not have to be a last option. What a shock, actually comes back to being a Health SNAFU yet again. Sigh, sorry.

  2. Shocking! For police and for the individual and society…the scandal of lack of mental health beds/placements just keeps on rolling…..

  3. Horrified…. as a question, in a hospital agitated behaviour can be managed through one-to-one , two-to one, nursing plus medication (effectively sedation. I know Custody is very good at providing one – one, care but would medication also be available? Especially in a situation such as the above where distress is likely to escalate

  4. There are not enough beds because the system that allows enforced drugging and ECT is not working. There is not enough support in the community and people like my daughter who are treatment resistant (non or poor metaboliser) are drugged forever and only if they display signs of serious blood disorders for instance are they taken off the drugs in the most horrific way. Physical conditions are overlooked and ignored . I feel sorry for people like my daughter – she is now at home and I never want her back on an acute ward again – there is no choice in facility – at least in police custody there is not forced drugging . Also it is cruel to send a patient hundreds of miles away and when they are not happy and want to come home threaten to sever contact and deprive liberty and then get away with bullying and harrassment. I do not agree with a system that is so cruel that allows forced drugging and ECT . £60000 pa care home costs are being saved by me having my daughter home and even more costs are applicable re private sector hospitals which could instead go towards families helping those who would otherwise be in care for c £60 a week carers allowance – a pittance compared to the weekly cost of institutions and there should be alternatives to acute wards which shd only be used short term rather than for years on end. There has been no support for my daughter in eight months and friends have been helping me .

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