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Keeping eyes and ears on detainees

PUBLISHED: 15:20 13 March 2008 | UPDATED: 10:37 03 July 2010

THEY are the eyes and ears of the public, ensuring the rights and welfare of people in custody are protected.

The cells of Great Yarmouth police station, like others across the country, are occupied by detainees who can sometimes be in a distressed or vulnerable state.

THEY are the eyes and ears of the public, ensuring the rights and welfare of people in custody are protected.

The cells of Great Yarmouth police station, like others across the country, are occupied by detainees who can sometimes be in a distressed or vulnerable state.

And it is the job of the independent custody visitor to ensure that those who have been detained are being looked after.

Working in pairs, custody visitors can attend the station at any time unannounced.

Colin has served as an independent custody visitor for the last 10 years and took up the role to put something back into the community.

“Life has been good to me and I wanted to do something worthwhile to help others,” he said. “An important attribute is impartiality; we do not want to know why someone is in custody or even their name, just that they are being treated fairly and their rights respected. For example have they seen a solicitor, do family members know they are in custody and are they receiving regular meals and exercise?

“We can check for injuries; sometimes these can be caused by being handcuffed or the detainee might have been in a fight. It is important to know if they have seen a doctor, if they have any special dietary needs or whether they are taking prescribed drugs.”

A retired offshore installation manager, Colin knew little about the criminal justice system before becoming a custody visitor.

Now he is raising awareness of the role to help recruit new volunteers from the Great Yarmouth area.

“We build up good working relationships with the police and in my experience officers are always co-operative and helpful and I have a greater appreciation for the work they do. There has been many changes for the better in conditions and information given to detainees. They appreciate the fact that we are from outside the system and one of the nice things about this is when we are thanked by the detainee for the assistance provided.”

A total of 51 custody inspections were made to Yarmouth police station in the 12 months to March 2007.

In that time 83 people were visited representing 48pc of the detainees at the station.

A report is completed for the police authority following each visit.

The Great Yarmouth panel of custody visitors is one of five in Norfolk, with a team of 35 serving in the county.

Sarah Bryant, the scheme administrator, said: “People need to be between 18 and 85, but no-one involved in the criminal justice system can take part. Applicants are interviewed. If successful they complete a training programme and six-month probationary period before signing up for a three-year term.”

Write to Sarah Bryant, Independent Custody Visiting Scheme Administrator, Jubilee House, Wymondham, call 01953 423851, e-mail policeauthority@norfolk.pnn.police.uk

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