Published 1 May 2020

Volunteers who normally make unannounced visits to custody suites to ensure detainees are being properly looked after, have taken to using technology instead in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Kent’s Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) are making video calls to talk to people held in police cells, in order to adhere to social distancing rules.

Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said:

‘All PCCs have a duty to operate an ICV scheme. It is one way in which we can hold police forces to account.

‘Of course, the current lockdown makes it difficult for our volunteers to visit police stations to check on detainees’ welfare in person, so my office has worked with Kent Police to devise an alternative to help keep people safe.’

ICV Jim Williamson was the first to embark on a ‘virtual visit’ last week. From his home in Medway, he was able to make a video call to talk to a man being held in custody at North Kent Police Station in Ebbsfleet.

Mr Williamson said:

‘These virtual visits to custody suites allow us to speak to some detainees and staff to check that detainees continue to be treated appropriately and that they and staff have access to required facilities. Whilst not as comprehensive as our physical visits, they allow us to continue to monitor custody suites whilst complying with government requirements on social distancing and travel.’

Given the current crisis, the PCC’s office (OPCC) is particularly keen to know whether detainees are being provided with adequate soap and washing facilities. Checks are also being made on the reasons for any delay in bringing someone arrested to a police station, and on whether adequate reviews are being conducted once they are there.

The OPCC is also reassured that the Young Lives Foundation is continuing to send its charity workers into custody to assist any young or vulnerable detainees requiring the help of an appropriate adult.

Mr Scott added:

‘My office and I are grateful to Kent Police Head of Custody Chief Inspector Nick Finnis and the ICVs for their inventiveness and flexibility at this time.

‘It is vitally important that everyone stays at home to save lives where possible, but Covid-19 has not prevented my office from continuing its vital work. I have been having regular remote discussions with the Chief Constable and other senior representatives of Kent Police; my commissioning team has been ensuring services for victims of crime continue to be available and accessible; and residents’ casework continues to be handled by phone and email.

‘We all look forward to things returning to normal but, until then, my team and I are still here to serve Kent residents – just in a slightly different way.’