IMPROVEMENTS for keeping vulnerable people safe in custody have been raised by a police watchdog following a number of referrals from Gwent Police.

Gwent's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Jeff Cuthbert, recently opened a seminar with Gwent officers, South Wales Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), discussing cases where detainees attempted harm themselves or take / conceal drugs.

Over the last two years, Gwent Police has routinely referred incidents in custody for IPCC investigation.

Cases included detainees attempting self-harm with cutlery, using a blanket or clothing as a ligature and some becoming unwell after digesting concealed drugs or medication.

No complaints arose from these incidents in Gwent custody and no-one was seriously injured.

IPCC Operations Manager, Melanie Palmer, who spoke at the seminar, said custody staff have a "difficult and challenging job" looking after vulnerable people and that "adverse incidents" will happen in custody due to the "nature of the environment and the individuals concerned".

“I commend Gwent Police for its openness to scrutiny over custody safety, and its willingness to learn from occasional incidents where a person has sustained injury," she said.

"Our involvement is not an indication that a member of custody staff has necessarily done something wrong, but can be an opportunity to learn.

"The PCC’s seminar was a constructive forum to share expertise on measures such as searching, risk assessments, decision-making in custody and the use of self-harm markers.”

There have been no deaths in police cells in Gwent since 2008 and custody issues across all Welsh police forces are discussed through meetings of the All Wales Custody Forum with facilities regularly attended by independent custody visitors.

Gwent's PCC, Jeff Cuthbert, said: “I’m responsible for running and monitoring the Independent Custody Visiting Scheme in Gwent which involves specially trained volunteers making unannounced visits to police custody units to check on the welfare of detainees and the facilities they are held in.

"Ensuring the safety of detainees and the police officers and staff working in our custody units is paramount.

"This is why my office and Gwent Police were delighted to have the opportunity to work directly with the IPCC to propose improvements that will further enhance safety in custody.

“In Gwent, we have already invested significantly in improving our custody suite to prevent harm and ensure that staff, detainees and police officers have a safe environment.

"This includes the installation of CCTV and life-sign monitoring in all cells to monitor the movement and breathing of detainees.”

Police also have extensive guidelines to follow on custody practice and recommendations from past IPCC investigations across Wales and England have contributed to improved guidance on detention and custody issued by the College of Policing.

Deaths in custody have halved over the last 13 years since the IPCC began.

Head of professional standards at Gwent Police, detective superintendent Nicky Brain, added: "We welcome the comments and the learning taken from this seminar and we will continue to work to ensure vulnerable persons that are dealt with in our custody unit are safe."

The IPCC is also exploring further awareness raising with the force, including providing inputs into training courses for custody staff.