North Wales Custody Watchdogs’ Surprise Cell Visits

A series of unannounced visits to police cells have been made by a team of volunteer custody watchdogs in North Wales.

PCC Pictured is Arfon Jones the police and crime commissioner for the North Wales Police  with Independent custody visitors for the East Division

The pairs of Volunteer Custody Inspectors called at North Wales Police custody suites at Wrexham, St Asaph, Caernarfon and Dolgellau.

At the same time similar surprise visits were made across police areas across the border in Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria in the North West of England.

The North Wales visits were overseen by the Office of the newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the area, Arfon Jones, himself a former custody inspector with the force.

The aim of the visits was to check the welfare of people held in police custody and the conditions in which they were being held to ensure that proper standards of care were being met.

In North Wales Police and Commissioner Arfon Jones said he was satisfied with the way the calls had gone and was grateful to the dedicated team of volunteers who had carried them out.

He said: “As a former custody inspector myself I know that the Independent Volunteers do visit and they make recommendations which are addressed by the force and they play a very valuable role in increasing the safety of prisoners.

“The visitors regularly make unannounced visits at any time of the day or night to custody suites and the vast majority of reports received from custody visitors are complimentary about the way prisoners are treated and the conditions in which they are kept.

“I would like to thank the dedicated volunteers who make these visits because they play a hugely important role in ensuring that standards of respect and decency are maintained and that they are independently verified.

“It is also very good to see the way in which North Wales Police co-operate closely with police forces in the North West of England which run similar custody schemes in carrying out these visits as this is an excellent example of partnership working.”

The chair of the Custody Visitors in North Wales is Sharon Mazzarella, from Ruabon, who was inspired to become an Independent Custody Volunteer after getting involved when a young man from the village was arrested.

Sharon, a mother of two and a support worker with the NHS in Wrexham is now in her fourth year in the role and is the Co-Ordinator for the Volunteers in the Eastern Division which covers the custody suites at Wrexham and Mold.

Central Division is covered by the custody suite in St Asaph and the Volunteer Co-ordinator is retired solicitor Marilyn Jones while Western Division has cells at Caernarfon, Dolgellau and Holyhead and the Co-ordinator is retired Welsh Ambulance Service paramedic John Dolan.

Sharon Mazzarella said: “I think it is a very important job because it is imperative that we have a way of monitoring what goes on in a police custody area.

“Our responsibility is to ensure that people in custody are looked after properly and that everybody is treated the same, in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

“Everybody has rights and our job is to make certain that their rights are honoured and upheld.

“When vulnerable people are held in custody, we have to ensure that their needs are met as well as those of other detainees.

“We visit in pairs and our arrival is always unannounced to the police, they do not know we’re coming.

“We can arrive at any time of the day or night and we have to be given immediate access to the cell block.

“We are accompanied by the sergeant or one of the civilian detention officers. They inform the detainees who we are and why we are there.

“During the visit, we check the condition of the cells to make sure that everything is in working order.

“It’s an important role and one people should know more about because it is reassurance for the community that someone independent like us are looking after their interests and seeing that things are done properly.

“It’s good for those who are taken in to know there is someone looking out for them and I believe it’s good for the police as well because it means that there is independent verification that they are doing their job properly and considerately.”