A SERIES of unannounced checks have been made on police custody suites and cells across North Wales by independent volunteers.
The visits came in support of the current Volunteers Week and were part of a co-ordinated series made at precisely the same time – 2pm on Wednesday June 3 – in Wrexham, St Asaph, Caernarfon and Dolgellau in North Wales and also in Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria in the North West of England.
All the visits were overseen by the offices of the respective Police and Crime Commissioners for those areas with the aim of checking on the welfare of people in police custody and the conditions in which they are being held to ensure all was above board and to their satisfaction.
On this side of the border the exercise was co-ordinated by the office of North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick who said he was satisfied with the way they had gone and grateful to the dedicated team of volunteers who had carried them out.
The chair of the Custody Visitors in North Wales is retired building society manager John Egan, a veteran of over 70 similar visits over the past three years.
He said no serious complaints by people in custody had ever been made to him since he began his voluntary role.
Mr Egan, 73, who lives in Llangoed, Anglesey, applied to become a custody visitor as a way of usefully filling his time following his retirement.
He said: “I currently make two or three visits a month and in the three years I’ve been a volunteer that must be 70 to 80 visits in total.”
Explaining what happens on a typical visit, Mr Egan said: “There are always two volunteers and we are totally unexpected when we arrive because it’s very important not to give the custody officers any warning that we’re coming so they can arrange things in advance.
“With the permission of the custody sergeant we go into the cells to speak to the people – both men and women – being held.
“I’d say 60 to 70 per cent of people are quite glad to see us and happy to speak with someone.
“We ask them questions such as whether they have been advised of their rights, if anyone from their family has been informed that they are in custody and if they have asked to see a solicitor.
“We also ask if they wish to make any complaints about their treatment in custody and I find that the top issue raised is usually the food and drink they have been given.
“Quite a number tell us that they don’t understand why they are being held in custody. However, most people – considering the circumstances they find themselves in – say they are quite happy with their treatment and that they think the police are doing a good job.
“We then make a quite extensive written report on our findings which is passed to our co-ordinator.”
He added: “In my experience the majority of issues are handled straight way by the custody sergeant.
“In the three years I’ve been a voluntary visitor I’ve not had anything serious mentioned to me that couldn’t be dealt with immediately by the custody sergeant and had to be referred to someone higher.
“For the person being held in custody I think it’s good to have someone totally independent of the police visiting them to make sure they’re getting a fair deal.
“I find the work rewarding and am quite happy with the way things have gone. The team I work with all support me extremely well.
“We volunteers can do three terms of three years. I’m now coming to the end of my first term and hoping that I am able to do two or even three further ones.”
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick CB QC said: “This is an excellent scheme which I am delighted to support, especially during Volunteers Week, and I am satisfied with the way the visits went.
“The visitors regularly make unannounced visits at any time of the day or night to custody suites.
“They are an important safeguard for detainees and provide an independent audit of how people held in police custody are being treated.
“The vast majority of reports received from custody visitors are complimentary about the conditions in custody.”
Mr Roddick added: “These absolutely vital visits could not be made without the dedicated volunteers who agree to carry them out and I celebrate the excellent work they do throughout the year.
“It is also very good to see the way in which North Wales Police co-operates so closely with its counterpart forces in the North West of England which run similar custody schemes in carrying out these visits.”