Appeal to find more custody watchdogs in Wrexham

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PCC INDEPENDANT CUSTODY OFFICER... Pictured is Sharon Mazzarella.

 

A search has been launched in Wrexham to find volunteers to act as custody watchdogs.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick CB QC is looking for three independent custody visitors in the area.

Their job will be to safeguard the welfare of people detained by the police and ensure their rights are upheld.

Mr Roddick is looking to appoint volunteers to join the existing team responsible for visiting custody facilities in Wrexham, and occasionally Mold.

The deadline for applications is July 10.

According to Sharon Mazzarella, the lead member of the panel who is due to take over as the overall chair for North Wales in August, it was vital that they attracted the right candidates.

Ms Mazzarella, 51, a dental support worker, said: “I think it is a very important job because it is imperative that we have a way of monitoring what goes on in a police custody area.

“Our responsibility is to ensure that people in custody are looked after properly and that everybody is treated the same, in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

“Everybody has rights and our job is to make certain that their rights are honoured and upheld.

“When vulnerable people are held in custody, we have to ensure that their needs are met as well as those of other detainees.

“We visit in pairs and our arrival is always unannounced to the police, they do not know we’re coming.

“We can arrive at any time of the day or night and we have to be given immediate access to the cell block.

“We are accompanied by the sergeant or one of the civilian detention officers. They inform the detainees who we are and why we are there.

“During the visit, we check the condition of the cells to make sure that everything is in working order.

“In terms of time and commitment, the successful candidates will be expected to undertake at least 10 visits a year and attend training courses.

“At the moment we’re only looking for people to come to Wrexham, so obviously it’s better they have their own transport. They’ll need to go occasionally to Mold.

“We are looking for people with good communication skills and demonstrate that they have independence and an impartial view while at the same time maintaining confidentiality.

“They will have to be good team players and be able to go in and talk to somebody without having prejudices.  I can’t say enough how important that is – you cannot be judgemental and carry out these duties.

“You also need to be able to relate to different people in different circumstances. One minute you’ll be talking to somebody who’s drunk so you need to be able to adapt your language accordingly or you could be talking to a juvenile.

“You have to be able to change the way you address people and the language you use.

“We are not allowed to know the names of people in detention or what they are in for which allows us to retain our objectivity.

“If we find nothing wrong in a custody suite, that means the police are doing their job and that they are doing everything by the book.

“After every visit we have to fill in a report which will include any concerns that we might have.”

Custody visiting, formerly known as ‘lay visiting’, owes its origin to Lord Scarman, whose report on the Brixton disorders in 1981 recommended a system of independent  inspection of procedures and detention in police stations by local community members.

 

It did not become statutory until 1984 when responsibility was given to police authorities to have in place an effective independent custody visiting scheme.

 

Mr Roddick added: “Applications are sought from men and women from all walks of life and parts of the community, including members of minority communities.

 

“The only requirement is that visitors must be over 18 and not a serving or former member of North Wales Police or a magistrate. Successful applicants will be expected to undertake 10 visits per year and will receive full support and training.”

 

Applicants should email Meinir McCall at  OPCC@nthwales.pnn.police.uk or ring the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office in Colwyn Bay on 01492 805486. Alternatively, they can download an application form from the Commissioner’s website, www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk