The cells at the police station in Dolgellau are being axed because they’re not safe – for prisoners or staff.
According to Chief Constable Mark Polin, the custody facilities are not fit for purpose, and are little used.
Mr Polin stressed the police station itself will remain open and the savings would be invested in strengthening the police presence in South Gwynedd.
The decision to close the custody facilities was taken by the Chief Constable, Mark Polin, and has been endorsed by the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Arfon Jones, as the “only viable option”.
The closure will save North Wales Police more than £0.3 million a year and the money will pay for extra sergeants and four constables to the Safer Neighbourhood Team covering Meirionnydd.
The commissioner revealed the custody facilities in Dolgellau were not compliant with authorised police practice and the recommendations of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and detainees and staff working there were at risk.
On top of that the cells were not used much, averaging one detainee a day with half of them being held for six hours or less.
As a result, the cost per prisoner in Dolgellau was £623 – more than twice that of the other police cells in North Wales.
The price per prisoner in Caernarfon is £261, the cost in St Asaph is £265 and the equivalent figure for Wrexham is £242.
In comparison, bed and breakfast at the world-famous Savoy Hotel starts at £464 so the prisoner could also enjoy dinner Gordon Ramsey’s Savoy Grill and it would still be cheaper than a night in the cells in Dolgellau.
Mr Jones said: “I have reluctantly agreed with the Chief Constable’s decision because of the compelling nature of the business case he presented to me. In the end common sense had to prevail.
“Unfortunately, the current provision is not compliant with national safety standards and presents risks to the detainees. It also poses a risk to staff because lone working is the norm.
“In the event of a medical emergency, the health board has confirmed that Dolgellau Hospital is not able to appropriately deal with people detained in custody.
“That means detainees would have to be taken to Ysbyty Bronglais in Aberystwyth, Wrexham Maelor or Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.
“Even worse, it would be impossible to defend the decision to retain the facilities if there was a death in custody. I am not prepared to take that risk because we must always do our utmost to safeguard the health and well-being of those in custody.
“Upgrading the custody suite in Dolgellau is a non-starter because the cost would be prohibitively expensive, particularly for a facility that is only used to house an average of one prisoner a day.
“In supporting the decision of the Chief Constable, I have taken the view that is far more sensible to use the money to bolster the police presence in South Gwynedd so we can provide an even better service for the people living in the area.
“I am firmly committed to securing an effective and efficient police service for the communities of Meirionnydd. Indeed it formed part of my election manifesto. However, legislation also places a duty on me to deliver value for money so I must give due consideration when presented with such a business case.
“The closure of Dolgellau Custody will save North Wales Police over £0.3 million per annum. Those savings will be reinvested into the local area, leading to the Safer Neighbourhood Team increasing by two Sergeants and four Constables.
“They will supplement response policing in South Gwynedd district, predominantly in the Meirionnydd area, and will carry out proactive policing and supporting the Rural Crime Team.
“On that basis I wish to endorse the Chief Constable’s proposal to close the suite and to redirect savings to providing more officers in the local area.”
Chief Constable Mark Polin added: “The decision to close Dolgellau Custody Unit is an operational one and it has been taken following a period of detailed discussion and unfortunately we are left with no viable alternative particularly when it comes to the safety of detainees and my staff.
“On average only one prisoner a day is detained in Dolgellau custody making any consideration of rebuilding or modernising financially none viable.
“Savings made from closure of the facility will be reinvested into additional officers for south Gwynedd as I am committed in ensuring the area remains one of the safest places in the UK.”