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Volunteers who go into Norfolk’s police custody facilities to check on the welfare of those held there have done their first physical visits since they were put on hold due to COVID-19.
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) are members of the local community who volunteer to visit police custody facilities, unannounced and in pairs, to ensure the proper treatment and welfare of those detained by the police.
They report back to Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Lorne Green, who has a statutory responsibility to run a custody visiting scheme, with their findings so that any issues or concerns can be addressed.
Visits to the Police Investigation Centres (PICs) in Wymondham, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Aylsham were suspended in March in line with Government guidance on COVID-19.
PCC Lorne Green said: “The safety of our volunteers, whose work I so highly value, and the custody staff who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic, is paramount.
“While it was right that physical visits to the PICs were put on hold, it was vitally important that regular monitoring and scrutiny of what was happening in custody didn’t stop.
“The interim measures we put in place helped provide that reassurance that detainees were being kept safe and, despite working under very challenging conditions, the police were continuing to treat people fairly and with respect.”
Interim arrangements put in place in March saw the PCC receive regular updates directly from Norfolk Constabulary’s Head of Custody, focusing on the welfare of detainees as well as how the PICs were functioning during lockdown.
During April, volunteers from each of the four custody visiting panels began weekly telephone monitoring of their designated custody facility. After speaking directly with custody staff about detainee numbers and care, and any issues or concerns, the custody visitors compiled a short report of their findings for the PCC.
These interim arrangements remained under regular review in line with Government guidance, and as restrictions continued to be eased custody visitors recommenced physical visits to the PICs.
Custody visitor, Sue Harrowing, who did one of the first visits to the custody facilities in Wymondham said: “Our visit was arranged to be carried out with the Custody Inspector, going through use of protective equipment such as face masks and gloves and a general update.
“At the end of the day, nothing has changed with regards to why we’re there and what we do – other than trying to keep a 1.5 to 2 metre distance when speaking with detainees and custody staff, speaking more loudly as the masks do mute the voice somewhat and remembering to bring our own pens and report forms to complete.
“Some things might take a bit of getting used to but they need to be embraced. All in all, it’s jolly good to be back.”
PCC Lorne Green added: “We have worked closely with our volunteers and custody staff to put in place additional safety measures to enable visits to restart.
“A return to physical visits has not been mandated for our volunteers – some of our custody visitors are shielding and others are simply not yet ready or able to return to the role.
“I am very grateful to the custody visitors who have volunteered to restart their visits and deliver this important service, on my behalf, as the eyes and ears of the Norfolk public.”