In response to a series of Freedom of Information requests, the British Transport Police (BTP) have revealed they have installed CCTV cameras in the strip search rooms in all their ten custody suites. This is contrary to the Home Office guidance and the practice of the Met. It is also contrary to BTP's own current policy.
BTP say there won't be CCTV in strip search rooms, except they all have CCTVs
The BTP initially explained that 'Both the BTP Policy and the [Safer Detention & Handling (SDH)] Home Office Guidance state that CCTV is not used in rooms used for strip or intimate searches.' After some further prompting, the BTP admitted that 'All ten [BTP] custody suites have CCTV in rooms where strip searches are being carried out', and that common sense should be put aside as 'You should note that this is not in contradiction to the [BTP] CCTV in Custody SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] as it is only a draft SOP and is still awaiting sign off. Nor are BTP in breach of the SDH Guidelines which states that strip/ searches can be carried out in a room with CCTV as long as the recording of the search is necessary and proportionate.' (Emphasis added.)
Section 3.10.4 of the BTP CCTV in Custody SOP (pdf) below is explicit when using cells for strip searches:
Cells with cameras will not be used for strip or intimate searches
Note, however, that one needs to extrapolate about rooms other than cells used for strip searches, or refer to the BTP explanations in their freedom of information response that that CCTV is not used in rooms used for strip or intimate searches.
This version of the SOP is v0.14 dated January 2010 (with a start date and a review date both of 2009). The BTP Information Standards Manager noted 'that this is a draft copy of the Standard Operating Procedure and has not been signed off by a member of the Senior Command Team.' One of the ten BTP custody suites (pdf list), at Brewery Road, was opened in August 2011, after this SOP was drafted. (This custody suite is the first and so far only one built using a modular system created by Britspace.) This draft SOP describes the opposite of what had been built before and is not followed either for custody suites built since.
Section 15.3.4 of the mentioned Home Office Guidance on the Safer Detention & Handling of Persons in Police Custody (pdf) states:
Cells equipped with CCTV should not generally be used to conduct strip searches or consultations between detainees and their legal representatives. There may be occasions when recording a strip search via CCTV is desirable for the protection of staff, however, consideration must be given to PACE Codes of Practice, Code C, Annex A, paragraph 11(b). The recording of the search must be shown to be necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. For further information see 15.3.10 PACE and Codes of Practice." [Emphasis added]
and section 15.3.10:
Conducting strip searches in CCTV cells is not precluded but a CCTV cell should not be regarded as a suitable place for a strip search unless control measures are implemented to ensure that the requirements of PACE Codes of Practice, Code C, Annex A are met. If a custody officer authorises a strip search to take place in a CCTV cell, the additional measures taken to protect the detainee’s privacy and dignity should be recorded in the custody record.
The referenced section of the PACE code (pdf) is about 'The conduct of strip searches' and includes:
11. When strip searches are conducted:
(a) a police officer carrying out a strip search must be the same sex as the detainee;
(b) the search shall take place in an area where the detainee cannot be seen by anyone who does not need to be present, nor by a member of the opposite sex except an appropriate adult who has been specifically requested by the detainee; [Emphasis added]
(c) except in cases of urgency, where there is risk of serious harm to the detainee or to others, whenever a strip search involves exposure of intimate body parts, there must be at least two people present other than the detainee, and if the search is of a juvenile or mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable person, one of the people must be the appropriate adult. [...]
The Home Office is more definitive in its Police Buildings Design Guide - Custody (pdf) which includes the following requirement:
PD1.04.02.09 Search / Evidence – Search Room
[Suite size dependant or Preferred]
This room is used by the custody staff to search the detainee. This facility will need panic alarm coverage for security and / or safety reasons. No CCTV coverage. Walk through metal detectors are not recommend; hand held units, used correctly are recommended. [Emphasis added]
(Note that the Metropolitan Police Service follow the Home Office guidance. Criteria 1.53 for using CCTV in cells in the Met's Custody Standard Operating Procedure (pdf) is 'A CCTV equipped cell must never be used for a consultation between a detainee and their legal representative or for conducting a strip search.' [Emphasis in the original])
Feeling safer when stripping in front of a CCTV?
The PACE codes are clear that when a strip search occurs, 'the detainee cannot be seen by anyone who does not need to be present, nor by a member of the opposite sex. What about the recorded CCTV images? There may be requirements for persons not present to view the images, when there is a complaint for instance, but is the rule about not viewing the stripped detainees by members of the opposite sex enforced by the BTP for the recorded images? Unlikely as the BTP do not keep a record of the number of times recorded CCTV images are accessed or viewed, nor the sex of officers having access to the footage or their rank. (Such 'Information [is] not held' responded the BTP to my request.)
When discussing this issue of the BTP filming strip searches, several friends suggested that having a video record of a police strip search is a good thing. As a privacy advocate put it, 'one of the key aspects is protection of the suspect, rather than protection of the police.' It is evidence in case of wrongful behaviour. There are several issues with this argument.
Firstly, stripping in front of a camera does not respect the privacy or the dignity of the detainee who is obviously in a vulnerable situation (and innocent until having been charged and convicted).
Secondly, an audio recording would serve a similar purpose with much greater respect for all involved. (This is a very different situation than the recently exposed audio and video recording in taxis).
Lastly, unfortunately CCTV cameras are occasionally malfunctioning or the recording goes missing, sometimes following complaints about police behaviour. There are several well-known cases of missing CCTV footage. A more minor one I am particularly familiar with, is the CCTV footage of my unlawful arrest at Southwark tube station. I eventually found in my IPCC case file that the BTP did obtain the recorded CCTV footage of the platform from Transport for London. However, in a response to a subject access request, the BTP wrote to me that they don't have this CCTV footage, they may have given it to the Met (who claim they never had it) and anyway they have no record of what they did with it: 'I could not locate any information regarding the holding and retention of the footage. The retention period for holding data is usually 6 years.'
To have a draft policy that says one thing and then doing the other precludes any proper debate on this important societal issue. Do we really want to be filmed when stripping in a BTP custody suite, or anywhere else?
Update 2011-12-04 The BTP in their response explained that they don't breach any guideline 'as long as the recording of the [strip] search is necessary and proportionate'. I've been wondering how and when this is determined, so I've just asked in another Freedom of Information request about the 'Criteria for the determination of necessity and proportionality of the CCTV recording of strip searches' . A response should be posted at that same link by 2012-01-05.
Update 2012-01-03 A further response has been received. Follow-up at No guidelines or training for BTP officers about CCTV recording of strip searches.