Anybody who has worked with me, or known me for a while, will be able to testify that I am fascinated by theories of productivity, leadership and motivation. I am ‘that person’ who brings out post-it notes, flipcharts and Sharpies. I talk about Maslow on Twitter and Covey over tea. I am fairly unapologetic about this as I think that it tends to get things done (the current ICVA staff mantra is ‘go hard or go home’). It also keeps me on the lookout for good leadership.

I’ve held various posts that have involved holding police to account in one form or another for years now. Over that time, two senior officers stand out to me as great leaders. One was Ian Dyson, then ACC for Surrey, now Commissioner for the City of London Police. Ian was responsible for confidence in policing. He was open about problems and innovative in looking for solutions. His office whiteboards were full of diagrams and ideas and he’d discuss latest management theories from Japan and how they may be applied to police. He was a great colleague and Surrey enjoyed exceptionally high confidence from the public at that time.

The other officer is the current Chief Constable of Surrey Police, Nick Ephgrave, who is the NPCC lead for custody. Nick provides clear and focused leadership that seeks to make improvements and change. He is also open to the input and ideas of others. It’s important for both ICV schemes and ICVA to have a good working relationship with the police to get the best benefit from the schemes so this is fantastic. One of the ways he engages others is through the National Custody Forum.

(As an aside, if you also like theories of leadership, I really enjoyed this podcast about ‘generous orthodoxy’, which looks at people who have a clear philosophy, but welcome in new information and are prepared to change. It’s only 33 minutes and is a good investment of time).

The National Custody Forum

So…what is the National Custody Forum? It’s a forum of police officers and staff from each region who work in custody and it meets twice a year. Academics, the IPCC, HMIC, HMIP and ICVA are also invited, and this was my first one. The Forum is building a picture of what police custody looks like today – both in the sense of number of cells, staff etc., but also explores what ‘good custody’ service looks like.

Nick led the development of the National Strategy for Police Custody, which outlines the vision, principles and workstreams for custody. A large proportion of the conference was spent discussing which priorities should be taken forward. Attendees were keen to balance what is important, most pressing and which projects needed new resources. The Forum settled on a range of projects that groups will take forward. Pleasingly, one will look at voluntary attendance.

Voluntary attendance

The use of voluntary attendance to interview people has risen dramatically in recent years. I have heard many explain this with the introduction of necessity to arrest in PACE Code G in England and Wales. Scotland, too, may see an increase as a presumption of liberty comes into place there later this year. Voluntary attendance can be good for all involved. It can mean that vulnerable people don’t have to experience custody and it can be more convenient and proportionate for all involved.

However, ICVA has had concerns about voluntary interviews. Where a person is being interviewed under voluntary attendance, but would be arrested if they attempted to leave, this can be considered defacto detention. Like police custody, this should have independent monitoring to comply with the UK’s duties under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and OPCAT. Our partners such as the National Appropriate Adult Network are concerned that those attending voluntary interviews may not access sufficient safeguards, such as an Appropriate Adult. We have taken a joint paper to the Home Office’s PACE Strategy Group where we found similar concerns across the legal profession.

I have joined the working group that will explore the legal, safeguarding, risk assessment, liaison and diversion and monitoring / oversight of voluntary interviews. I am delighted to do so and will represent the views of both ICVA and our partners to work to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place.

Academic research

A further significant section of the forum was dedicated to academic research. As suggested earlier, I do enjoy this kind of thing and I found the data absolutely fascinating with huge potential to improve custody. Many of the findings were preliminary with further work required so I won’t speak on them in depth. One piece of research mapped out the characteristics of current custody suites. I wondered how could ICVA use this? Could we, for example, use it to suggest frequency of visits for each custody suite based on its features? We need to wait a little longer for the data, but there are certainly ideas to play with.

A further area of interest to me is triage – how to we use finite resources to best effect. This fantastic episode of Radiolab explores triage in war and after natural disasters, worth a listen. Police custody is much less dramatic, but people do still, sadly, die in custody. The Forum discussed data analysis that may create safer and more efficient use of resources using Fast Frugal Trees (worth a Google) to help predict when detainees are likely to be compliant with requests or behave in a anti-social manner. This could be used as part of managing overall risk of harm to that detainee or to staff in custody.

One participant questioned how compliance or anti-social behaviour was defined. This question nags at me too. She suggested that what may be considered anti-social by one person would be perfectly understandable and normal to another. I do find myself pondering policing and diversity a lot lately. I thought that she had a good point – what are the expectations of custody staff and how to they impact differently on different groups of detainees?

This was made even more useful when presented with other academic research that outlined staff and detainee attitudes. The research tended to suggest, unsurprisingly, that if custody staff behaved respectfully to detainees, they were less likely to be “anti-social” and, in turn, staff were more likely to go the extra mile for the detainee – a kind of virtuous circle of custody behaviour. It strikes me that there is a lot of potential here to look for opportunities for police to behave in a way that will leads to calmer detainees and then happier staff. It’s all work in progress, but I found it captivating and am keen to hear more about the practical implications.

Mental health

The Mental Health Cop attended the Forum and again discussed changes to legislation and long waits for beds. Pleasingly, he has been involved with discussions between the Home Office and Department of Health, which may see some progress on these waiting times, we will watch and see. Michael is another one to watch for leadership skills. He spoke of the need to feel empathy and show humanity. Such an important message, and one that can sometimes be lost when we get bogged down in process.

Regional updates

All attendees gave an update for their region and other attendees were invited to make a contribution. This part of the forum was reassuring and useful. Useful in that I was able to open up discussion with all regions, inviting them to give feedback on our plans. It was reassuring in that the issues raised by staff are similar, although not identical, to the ones found by our ICVs. It was good to have this triangulation and to be able to feed into national debates.


Since joining ICVA, I have sought to get a UK-wide picture of custody visiting – to understand the scale of the schemes and thematic findings. I am so grateful to all schemes that have taken part in this. It gives us a picture of custody (and one that I’ll share in the Annual Report this summer). It was inspiring to see that the police are capturing a national picture too and that the room was focused on making improvements and setting standards across the UK. More than that, it was motivating to see considered priorities emerge and proactive projects grow from there.

Modern leadership, to me, is about interdependence, setting a shared goal and vision then walking towards it together. This Forum has given custody visiting the, well…, forum to voice your concerns on issues like voluntary interviews and positions custody visiting in the heart of national custody decisions and planning. The proof of the pudding will, as ever, be in the eating so let’s see what we manage to achieve. I am enthused and ready to represent.