Martyn Underhill responds to vulnerable suspects report

Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner has responded to a national report about how police forces have detained and interviewed vulnerable adult suspects.

The National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) today published the There To Help 2 report, showing that more than 100,000 police detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable adult suspects take place each year without the support of an ‘appropriate adult’ – despite it being a legal requirement.

Appropriate adults are parents, social workers or other responsible people aged over 18 who must be called upon by police whenever they detain or interview a child or vulnerable adult – such as people who have a mental illness, learning disability, brain injury or who are autistic.

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces in England and Wales, the report found that in 2017/18:

  • Police recorded the need for an appropriate adult in only 6% of around 1 million police detentions and voluntary interviews of adults.
  • There were large variations, particularly in voluntary interviews, as different police forces recorded rates of appropriate adult need between 0% to 24%.

Martyn Underhill, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioner’s Mental Health and Custody lead, said: “NAAN’s refresh of their original There to Help report comes at an extremely useful time for Police and Crime Commissioners.

“In July 2018, the Home Office announced a new voluntary approach for PCCs and local authorities to work in partnership to ensure vulnerable adults receive the necessary support they require when entering police custody.

"In response to this new approach, I wrote to the Policing Minister to formally outline four key asks to improve the system of Appropriate Adult provision, including making this a statutory responsibility for local authorities. I also raised the need for the new approach to be evaluated and requested details of how PCCs could contribute to this analysis.

"It is now nearly 12 months on since the approach was launched, and NAAN’s report provides a strong indication of how police forces and PCCs have increasingly become a stopgap measure in commissioning services. The treatment of vulnerable people in custody is a serious matter. The lack of clarity from the government on who is responsible for funding and commissioning appropriate adult services for vulnerable adults remains a concern."

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