“Caught out” – can the Police Custody Record be trusted?

It is a requirement of Code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that a detailed Custody Record, now generally computerised rather than handwritten, is kept throughout a person’s detention in Police Custody, from the moment their detention is authorised by a Custody Sergeant until they are released either without charge, on bail, or alternatively transferred to the custody of the Court.

The Custody Record is an invaluable tool for ensuring that a person’s rights are upheld whilst they are in detention and is there to ensure that those rights are not infringed and that everything is done ‘by the book’ in terms of ensuring that they are not detained for an excessive period without being charged, in ensuring their safety from illness, injury or self harm whilst in custody and that all of the rights to which a detained person is entitled such as access to a solicitor as well as the more basic human needs of being provided with food, drink and access to a toilet are maintained.

The purpose of the Custody Record is to ensure compliance with the law and that there is respect for the dignity of the detainee throughout.

Of course, it is not the detainee who completes or has any input into what is recorded in the Custody Record.  All of the entries in the Custody Record are made by police staff, generally the Custody Sergeant, but also other officers, including Civilian Detention Personnel and higher ranking Officers such as Inspectors.

The Custody Record is generally the first document which I will obtain when I am instructed by a client who believes he or she may have a case against the Police, and I will check it to ensure that their rights have not been infringed and to see upon what grounds the police justified their arrest and detention.

Many times after reviewing this document with my clients, I have had clients say to me that they believed their Custody Record was not accurate, in that important information had been omitted or in fact that some entries had been falsified.

Sometimes, for example, the complaint which a client tells me they made against the Officers who arrested them, and who may have been heavy-handed towards them, is not recorded, or is not fully recorded  to the extent that my client recollects.

Sometimes, my clients also report that the timings of various entries are inaccurate and that they were not (for example) visited as often as they should have been to check upon their welfare, or to update them as to what was happening with their detention etc, despite entries in the Custody Record claiming that such visits took place.

Whilst I have long suspected that the Custody Record is a one-sided document, and can sometimes be falsified to the advantage of the Police and disadvantage of the detainee, it is rare to be able to find concrete evidence of this.  Such evidence however, has come to light in an ongoing claim which I am bringing on behalf of a client against Thames Valley Police.

My client was arrested and taken to his local Police Station, where he arrived at 03:04 on 11 July.  He was suffering severe injuries having been bitten multiple times by a Police Dog prior to his arrest and a decision was then made to transfer him to  Hospital at 03:25 on 11 July, where he remained until 18:52 on 13 July undergoing treatment.

In light of that information you may now be surprised to read the following entries which I have taken from the custody log, all covering the period whilst my client was in hospital –

11 July

 05.31                     Detained Person (DP)  visited in cell, he was asleep, all was in order and he was breathing freely.

06.27                     DP visited in cell, asleep, all in order and he was breathing freely.

10.03                     DP’s detention had been reviewed by  Inspector H, review was overdue due to operational commitments.

18.41                     Inspector is aware of review but is currently having technical issues.

18.54                     Remote review – late entry – I am aware that DP is currently in hospital to have an operation … and I am aware that his PACE clock is suspended but his detention is being reviewed … I authorized continued detention in order to establish of sufficient evidence to charge by way of interview.

23.34                     Remote review – DP in hospital (essentially as above) – Inspector R .

 

12 July

08.28                     DP had been visited in cell, was asleep all is in order and he was breathing freely.

08.47                     With regards to above cell check entry – entered in error as DP still in hospital for treatment.

08.47                     Review conducted by C. Inspector A… I am satisfied the arrest is lawful and proportionate and the investigation is being carried out diligently.  The DP is not available at the moment because he is at hospital receiving treatment for dog bites …. Continued detention is authorized (etc).

17.59                     Inspector K – DP is currently in hospital having an operation… when DP has returned from hospital he is to be informed of review and reminded of his rights … continued detention is authorized (etc).

 

13 July

00.21                     Inspector K records that DP’s detention has been reviewed in the same terms as the entry timed at 17.59h above.

07.30                     DP has been visited in cell.  Was asleep, his breathing had been seen and all was in order.

07.53                     Last entry recorded in error.

08.08                     Inspector C – review of detention carried out.  DP asleep.  Continued detention is authorized … when awake DP to be informed of review and reminded of rights.

14.52                     Inspector C– review of detention carried out.  DP away at hospital.  Continued detention authorized (etc).

18.52                     DP returns to police station from hospital.

 

These entries are quite shocking are they not?

In no less than 5 of those entries it is falsely stated that my client had been visited in his cell, and observed to be asleep and breathing freely and all was in order.  In fact when each of those entries was made my client was in hospital and therefore anyone seen asleep in his cell at that time must have been a ghost or figment of the Officer’s imagination.

Joking aside, this is actually a very serious matter.  There is good reason why regular checks are carried out and why the Officer is supposed to ensure that they have observed the person breathing to make sure that they have not fallen victim to illness or injury, particularly in light of the fact that a lot of people who are brought into Police Custody are vulnerable individuals being placed in a very stressful situation – often people against whom violence may have been used (quite possibly lawfully) during their arrest, who may have injuries inflicted by the Police or other individuals before they came in, who may be drunk or under the influence of other drugs, who may have mental health issues, or who might suffer flare ups of existing health issues because of the anxiety inducing circumstances in which they have been placed (cardiac and asthmatic issues for example).

The impression gained from the entries cited above is that Officers were – perhaps routinely – not in fact carrying out the safety observations they should have been upon detainees but simply typing out false entries as a smoke screen to hide the fact that whoever should have been carrying out the review was in fact sitting with his or her feet up enjoying a cup of coffee and a donut …

The only other explanation is that the Officers were on each of the 5 occasions visiting the incorrect cell, which itself is quite shocking and no reason for reassurance.  As I have stated above, one of the key reasons for carrying out these regular reviews is to ensure the safety of the occupant in each specific cell.

As I have said above, the fact is, that it is only because my client was in hospital throughout this time that these entries can be exposed to be the clear falsifications which they are.  Many other times clients have expressed concern to me about entries in which it is stated they were asleep, saying that in fact because of the anxiety of their situation and uncomfortableness of the cell they did not sleep all night.  This does lead me to wonder how many times Officers will take shortcuts and simply not carry out the reviews which they are supposed to by law to ensure the safety of the people they have taken into custody.

It will be noted that the last of the incorrect entries was made by an Inspector C at 8:08 on 13 July.   For the very basic reason that it is falsely recorded that my client was asleep in his cell (when in fact he was in hospital) it does not appear that this review was genuinely carried out and this would in fact mean that even if my client had been validly arrested in the first place on reasonable suspicion of an offence, his detention would have become unlawful from 09:21 until the next time a genuine review by an Inspector was carried out (at 14:52).  This is because Section 40 of PACE requires reviews of a person’s ongoing detention (whilst they are pending charge) to be carried out by an Officer of Inspector rank or above  no more than 6 hours following the initial authorisation of detention, and then at intervals of no more than 9 hours thereafter.   In my client’s case such a review should have been carried out by Inspector Coburn at 09:21, but the false  entry at 08:08 indicates to me that the review was either not done at all, or improperly done.

This therefore gives me a strong basis to argue on behalf of my client that he suffered a period of false imprisonment amounting to just over 5 and a half hours on 13 July between the ‘false’ review and the real review.

This, the claim for false imprisonment, is only one aspect of his claim, which in fact centres primarily around the severe injuries he sustained when, in my opinion, an out of control Police Dog attacked him without justification.  However I am happy to be pursuing the false imprisonment aspect as well, because it is very important that the police are held to account in regards to all breaches of the law which regulates the rights of detained persons and the proper conduct of the police towards people who they have in their power and control.

We must not allow it to become routine for the Custody Record to be manipulated by the Police, nor to be regarded by Officers as an unimportant form filling exercise.  A true and accurate Custody Record, upholding a person’s rights to have their detention under regular review, and to ensure that their health and welfare is being properly monitored and maintained by the Police,  some of the most important ways in which, in a boring and  bureaucratic but also heartwarming way, we ensure the rights of all citizens are properly maintained and we do not slip towards the abuses of an unaccountable  ‘Police State’.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.