POLICE custody cells in County Durham are outdated and are not being properly staffed, according to a watchdog report.

Inspectors raised concerns about staffing levels at Durham Police’s custody cells following an unannounced visit in July.

The report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services found a shortage of staffing was hindering the effective management of the suites and poor conduct of reviews of detention.

It said: “Custody staff were often stretched and unable to carry out all the tasks required or meet detainee needs promptly – for example, detainees waiting longer than necessary to be released. This was compounded by a lack of day-to-day supervision in the suites.

"The staffing arrangements were not sustainable for delivering custody services in the future and to achieve the outcomes expected for detainees.”

However, the report added: “Despite custody staff being under significant pressure at times, they showed a respectful and caring attitude to detainees.

“This helped to mitigate the inability always to meet detainees’ needs promptly, and the impact of some of the poor physical conditions in suites.”

Inspectors found the cells were dated and in need of major refurbishment but added they were kept clean.

The force was praised for its work in keeping children and vulnerable adults from entering custody.

Durham Police has 15 cells in both Durham and Darlington, 14 cells in Peterlee and nine in Bishop Auckland.

They are staffed by 26 custody sergeants and 32 detention officers but because of absences, inspectors found there was a reliance on overtime.

A Durham Police spokesman said: “We are pleased with the positive comments made by the inspectors around the attitude of our staff and the safe delivery of custody, but we also accept the concerns which have been raised in this report.

“In recent months we have taken a number of steps to mitigate some of those concerns, including addressing issues around staff numbers and greater investment in our custody suites.

“However, there are longer term issues which need consideration and we are in the process of planning for the future of our custody facilities”.

It was the first time the custody had been inspected since 2014.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:“There was a clear governance structure for the respectful and safe delivery of custody, to provide oversight at strategic and operational levels.

“The force had made progress since the last inspection, although it had not addressed two areas where we made recommendations, which we have identified in this inspection report as causes of concern.”