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Could you help ensure rights and welfare of people when they come into contact with the police?

June 21, 2022
Independent Custody Visitors Justin Whitehorn and Janet Hodgson talk to Philip in the cell

Independent Custody Visitors talk to Philip in the cell during his voluntary overnight stay in 2019.

Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Seccombe has launched a new drive to find volunteers who are passionate about safeguarding the rights and welfare of people when they come into contact with the police.

He has opened recruitment for people who want to become either Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) or Appropriate Adults.

Both schemes are administered by the Police and Crime Commissioner to provide assurance about different aspects of contact with the police. Working in pairs, the ICVs make unannounced visits to police stations within the force area to check on the welfare of people detained in custody. They observe, comment and report on the conditions and treatment of people detained. They also check that the statutory rights and entitlements governing the welfare of detainees are being observed.

Appropriate Adults, meanwhile, are members of the public who volunteer to support vulnerable people who are suspected of a criminal offence, to safeguard their interests, rights, entitlements and welfare.  They accompany people with mental ill-health, learning difficulties and autism during police interviews, to ensure they can fully understand the criminal justice process.

Mr Seccombe has first-hand experience of the importance of ensuring the rights and welfare of people who come into police contact, having volunteered to spend a night in the cells in 2019 during a simulated arrest and detention.

He says: “There are many reasons why people may be brought into police custody and this can sometimes for an extended number of hours or overnight while police make their enquiries. By necessity, being in custody is quite a lonely and isolating experience, so knowing that there is an independent system in place to ensure your welfare and that your rights have been respected is extremely important for detainees.

“This was certainly true for me when I volunteered to spend the night in custody, to see for myself what the experience is like. Having the Independent Custody Visitors come into the cell to talk to me provided that extra level of reassurance that my welfare really was a top priority, as well as a friendly face to share my experiences with. I think that is very valuable for anyone who is detained for any period.

“From my perspective as Police and Crime Commissioner, I can also say that it is a vital service.  It allows me to hold the force to account to resolve problems that may arise quickly and to implement any longer-term changes needed within the custody environment. It is also extremely helpful to the officers and staff who work within our custody suites to have that independent overview and verification of the high standard of their work.

“Thankfully, in the time I have been Commissioner, issues reported during the custody visits have been minor and able to be swiftly resolved, even throughout the considerable challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic brought.”

Appropriate Adults provide a similarly vital role for vulnerable people when they come into police contact. By ensuring that those being interviewed by the police fully understand the questions they are being asked and the wider criminal justice processes, the risk of miscarriages of justice and unjust convictions can be greatly reduced.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner runs an Appropriate Adult scheme to provide services to support vulnerable adults in Warwickshire. It supplements existing arrangements for adults and the separate provision by Warwickshire Youth Justice Service for children and young people aged under 18.

Established during 2021, the scheme has proved incredibly successful and is now being expanded to accommodate more volunteers.

Mr Seccombe added: “I’m extremely grateful for the work the Independent Custody Visitors and Appropriate Adults do and that’s why I’m keen to see more people volunteer for this worthwhile role.

“If you are someone who is committed and passionate about protecting the rights and welfare of individuals, we really want to hear from you.”

To find out more about how to apply for either role, visit the Commissioner’s website at www.warwickshire-pcc.gov.uk and click the link on the home page.

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