Catching a Killer


January 15, 2020

Chief Executive

  • blogging
  • chief executive
  • criminal justice
  • custody
  • custody visits
  • detainee welfare
  • human rights
  • mental health
  • partnership
  • twitter
  • volunteers

Catching a Killer

Channel Four aired another policing programme including footage of custody yesterday.  Catching a Killer broadcast Thames Valley Police’s investigation of two deaths and included some chilling and upsetting footage.  It also showed how a suspect was managed within custody.

Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) do not generally know why a detainee is in police custody and nor will they ask.  They are in place to ensure that custody is safe and dignified and they do not discuss the details of investigations.  Police staff will be aware why a detainee is in custody, but their job is to manage both the custody process and the care of the detainee.  The programme showed a number of processes that are common in custody and help to ensure that it runs as well as possible.

An extended stay

As outlined in our last blog, the idea that detainees remain in custody for 24 hours is a misnomer.  The programme showed an extended stay where the detainee remained in custody for longer than 24 hours due to the serious nature of the crime they were suspected of.

The detainee was released on bail.  Pre-charge bail occurs when there is insufficient evidence to charge and the detainee is released pending further investigation.  It can also occur when police consider that there is sufficient evidence to charge, but the matter must be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.

The police can impose conditions as part of bail, as seen in the programme, and have a power of arrest if these conditions are breached.

The Home Office has recently announced a review of pre-charge bail law to ensure that it works effectively to safeguard victims whilst ensuring cases are dealt with swiftly.

Reading material

As seen, detainees can have extended stays in custody.  Detainees do not have access to devises like their phones or TVs.  They also spend long stretches alone in their cell.  Detainees can find this difficult and stressful to experience and it can also have a knock-on effect for staff as detainees need additional support.

Police therefore provide reading material.  This may be magazines or newspapers.  Thames Valley have recently completed a project to improve their stock of books, and a book was provided to the detainee in the programme.  Other areas provide distraction materials such as sudoku, colouring and jigsaws.  Books and distraction materials can help to reduce anxiety and to ensure that custody runs more smoothly for both detainees and staff.

Food in custody

The detainee in the programme was offered food during booking in.  Detainees are offered three meals a day and will, typically, be offered or able to access food outside of these times.  Food does vary across custody suites with some offering canteen cooked meals.  More typically, detainees are provided microwave meals or packaged sandwiches.  Police will meet different dietary requirements, providing meals that meet religious needs or dietary and medical needs.

Medical assistance

The programme also showed a custody sergeant advising the detainee that they could access medical assistance whilst in custody.  This is a really important part of the custody process.  Many detainees in custody have complex needs and may be intoxicated.  The Angiolini Review highlighted issues such as epilepsy, intoxication and mental health and these issues often come up where deaths, sadly, do occur in custody.

Healthcare Practitioners can provide care and assessments for detainees.

Many custody suites now have healthcare practitioners embedded in their suites in recognition of the complex requirements in custody.  There are some that you can follow on Twitter to have insight into their roles.

The custody process in the programme is an important part of the investigative process.  It gives police and opportunity to interview the detainee and gather evidence.  The processes in place within the suite ensure that custody is safe and dignified for the detainee.  ICVs are local community members who visit this often-hidden area of policing, speaking to detainees to get their feedback and share any issues with the OPCC or police authority and police to be resolved.  Taken together, this builds confidence in police custody and policing in the UK as a whole.