Closure of police cells ‘right thing to do’ says Richmondshire’s police inspector

The police cells in Northallerton have closed meaning the nearest custody facilities are in Harrogate. Joe Willis asks Richmondshire’s neighbourhood police inspector Mark Gee what the change means for the district.

I’m not saying you will, but if you did get arrested this Christmas after the works Christmas party gets out of hand, you could get a free trip courtesy of North Yorkshire Police.

Before the turn of the millennium the chances are you would only get to Richmond as the town’s police station had its own cells and custody suite. But after its closure in 2000 you would get to see the bright lights of Northallerton as you made your way to the town’s police station in the back of a police car or van.

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However, this custody suite is now closed too, meaning being nicked in Richmondshire could mean a trip all the way to Harrogate, which along with York and Harrogate, is one of only three custody suites in the county.

Last month, police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan announced that Northallerton Police Station which contained the custody suite, would be sold off and staff moved to the new headquarters at the town’s Alverton Court.

There has been a policy of custody suite consolidation nationally, not just in North Yorkshire, with an acceptance that custody facilities now need to be modern, well-equipped and well-staffed to cope with the often complex mental health needs of those detained.

A year-long trial closure of Northallerton’s custody suite had already taken place, meaning the permanent closure was no surprise.

But the announcement was greeted with some dismay from those who believe the move could be detrimental to policing in Richmondshire. With a limited number of officers covering what is a large area geographically, there are concerns that local officer’ time will be taken up by transporting people to the cells in Harrogate.

Some even suggested that officers could decide not to make an arrest because it would mean a long journey to book the suspect in to custody.

But Inspector Mark Gee, neighbourhood inspector for the district, said this just wasn’t the case and his officers would still make an arrest when it was necessary.

He added, however, that police now had a range of methods at their disposal to investigate a crime, meaning immediate arrest and interview under caution was not always required.

“If someone commits a crime there are often times when we can investigate that crime without the need for firstly arresting someone.

“There are numerous ways we can do that. We might use forensic or DNA evidence, CCTV images or look at phones or computer for evidence for example.”

Instead of placing someone under arrest, a case can be built up first before they are arrested and interviewed.

Suspects – along with victims and witnesses – could be invited to attend Richmond Police Station and make a statement as a voluntary attendee. The station also has the facility to take fingerprints and samples for DNA testing.

As well as there being less of a requirement for evidential reasons to make an immediate arrest, Insp Gee said modern policing policies required officers to only make arrests when it was deemed to be necessary and proportionate.

Gone are the days when police may have placed someone in cells for a period almost as punishment for a minor offence.

But when arrests had to be made, they would still be made, stressed the inspector, who said his officer could use facilities in Darlington or even Cumbria if required.

“Clearly taking someone’s liberty and placing them in a cell is impactive on that person but arrests are still made on a case by case basis.”

Examples given include a drink driver who would be arrested and taken in to custody to get a sample of blood for evidence.

A violent domestic incident where there were safeguarding concerns could also lead to an immediate arrest.

And if it is thought a suspect is likely to disappear rather than face the music for their wrongdoing, the chances are they too could get a ride to the county’s spa town.

Once in Harrogate, the officer can pass the case to officers who work in the investigation hub, a department launched two years ago in a bid to speed up justice.

“The move of custody facilities to Harrogate is the right thing to do,” said Insp Gee.

“We have seen over the year long trial that the change has no adverse affect on the way we have investigated crime and brought offenders to justice.

“The investigation hub means we can get local officers back on the patch as quickly s possible.”

So as appealing as a free ride to Harrogate may sound this Christmas, it’s probably not worth breaking the law for.

You may not even get to make the trip and if you do, you need to remember it’s a one-way offer and you will have to find your own way home.