Crowded police station sends prisoners to Glasgow

St Leonard's Police station. Picture: Toby Williams
St Leonard's Police station. Picture: Toby Williams
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A FLAGSHIP city police station is so overcrowded that prisoners are regularly being sent to cells in Glasgow.

A new report has singled out St Leonards in Edinburgh – one of the busiest custody centres in Scotland – insisting it is “not operating as efficiently as it should be”.

The main issues facing the 40-cell Newington complex are lengthy booking-in times, poor privacy at the “charge bar” desk, and long waits in a crowded holding area. In some cases, cells are so full that detainees have to be taken as far afield as Greenock or Govan – up to 70 miles away.

Concerns were also raised that in some cases, there were not enough handcuffs to restrain detainees during fire evacuations.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) visited a total of 22 custody centres across Scotland – including St Leonards, Dalkeith and Livingston.

St Leonards’ lack of capacity is a “frequent issue” according to inspectors, who paid two visits to the station rather than a single trip as in other cases. The report has called for a thorough review by Police Scotland’s custody division.

Inspectors found that since the start of the single force last year, Edinburgh detainees have been moved to stations in the old Strathclyde force area to “manage the risks” of having more than one person in a cell.

“Capacity is a particular issue in Edinburgh, with transfers happening every weekend,” adds the report.

“Although detainees from the west of Edinburgh are now being taken to Livingston, others are routinely transported a considerable distance to Govan or Greenock.”

Figures reveal that St Leonards processed 17,850 detainees in the 2013-14 period – 6000 more than Aberdeen and Glasgow’s Stewart Street, which are the next busiest custody centres of those visited.

And although Police Scotland is addressing capacity pressure, the report suggested that weekend courts could help stem the solution by reducing the number of detainees kept in police custody over weekends.

Inspectors said using the court cells at Livingston would be an effective way to ease the pressure.

Inspectors noted a growing number of custodies who are vulnerable due to complex medical problems, mental health issues and drug and alcohol addictions, supported by a new custody healthcare programme by local NHS boards.

The report praises the leadership of Police Scotland’s custody division, but calls for more consistent detail about budgets and staffing to improve the conditions across the country.

HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman said: “Following our scrutiny work it is our assessment that Police Scotland inherited a disparate landscape of custody facilities, staffing models and procedures from the eight legacy forces and has done well to introduce consistent policy and procedures across Scotland.

“As a matter of urgency, Police Scotland should finalise the Custody Estate Strategy and work in partnership with the Scottish Police Authority and Scottish Government to prioritise investment in the custody estate.”