Police stations - What
The process of being arrested and held at the police station
The first contact you have with the police and criminal justice system is when the police arrest you. Someone may have told the police that there has been a crime or think one is about to happen. They have to investigate reports like this.
When the police arrest you they will read the caution to you and take you to the police station. The caution is below and we explain what it means.
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention now something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
This means you do not have to answer questions if you don’t want to. If you do give answers the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may use what you say as evidence in your court case. The police may ask you a question you didn’t answer during the interview. If you give the answer to the question in court without telling the police it may damage your case. The judge, jury or magistrates may wonder why you didn’t give this answer when the police interviewed you. They may feel you only thought of the answer after the police interviewed you. They might find it harder to believe if you only say it for the first time in court.
Being taken to the police station
The police can hold you at the police station to see if you have committed a crime or not.
The first person you may meet is the custody sergeant. They are on duty to meet people the police bring in. They are your main contact whilst you are there. The custody sergeant should call an appropriate adult for you if they think you are vulnerable.
Arriving at the police station
The custody sergeant will meet you at reception. They will check your name, address and date of birth. They will ask you questions about your health and if you are a risk to yourself. You will have to give them anything you have on you, such as a mobile phone or money.12 They will put your things in an envelope or bag, seal it and make a note of it. The custody officer has to keep this safe. They should give your things back unless they are part of the case you are involved in.
If you have medication on you, the custody sergeant should get an Appropriate Health Care Professional to check it. They should make sure you can take your medication while you are at the station.
The custody sergeant will take a photo of you to put your details on the police computer system.
The custody sergeant should caution you again and make sure you understand it. They may ask you to repeat it in your own words to see if you understand it. They have to caution you in front of your appropriate adult so they may caution you three times:
- 1st time when the police arrested you,
- 2nd time when the custody sergeant was checking you in, and
- 3rd time in front of your appropriate adult if they weren’t there when the sergeant checked you in.
The appropriate adult can help explain the caution to you.
If you would like to have a solicitor, the police will arrange for a duty solicitor to be there. Everyone can get a solicitor for free at the police station. If you want a specific solicitor, you can ask for them at reception, or at any time whilst at the police station. They will contact that solicitor but this may mean you are there longer waiting for them.
You can speak to the solicitor on the phone before they come to the station instead of seeing someone face to face. This might be helpful if there are delays in the solicitor getting to the station. You may want to call them first if you aren’t sure if you want a solicitor there in person.
Even if you decide not to have legal representation at first, you can change your mind. You can ask for a legal representative at any time when at the police station.
You can get the police to tell someone you have been arrested. This could be a carer, family member, friend, healthcare or social care professional such as your social worker.
If the custody sergeant thinks you might have a mental illness or are vulnerable, they should get an appropriate adult for you. They should ask an Appropriate Health Care Professional (AHCP) to see you.
Searching and taking samples
The police may want to search you if they think you might be hiding something that:
- is related to a crime, or
- you might use to hurt yourself or others.
The police can strip search you if they think you have committed a crime. A strip search is when you have to take off more than your outer clothing.
At least 2 people need to be there, a police officer and your appropriate adult. They should try and make sure the police officer is the same gender as you. But, you can ask for a male or female officer if you want. The police do not strip search unless they are worried you are hiding something, especially if it may harm anyone.
Your appropriate adult should be there when the police need to take your fingerprints, DNA samples or photograph you. The police will ask you to sign a form to agree you let them take the samples and know what the police might use them for. The appropriate adult should be there when you sign anything to make sure you understand:
- what is going on, and
- what you are agreeing to.
Meeting the legal representative and appropriate adult
You have the right to see your legal representative in private. It is important that you understand that only things you tell your legal representation are confidential. Your appropriate adult does not have to know what you and your legal representative talked about. You should not tell them anything you don’t want them to know. If you agree, your legal representative can share information with your appropriate adult and the police. But most of the time your meetings with the legal representative are confidential. This means the representative will not tell anyone else what you have spoken about, unless you say they can.
The appropriate adult can meet with you in private but it is important to remember that these meetings are not confidential. This means that if you share any information about the crime the police think you have committed, the appropriate adult has to tell this to the police.
The interview is when the police ask you about if and how you were involved in a crime. It is important to know that if the police are questioning you it doesn’t mean they have charged you yet. The interview is your chance to give your version of events.
At the interview, there should be 2 police officers, you, your solicitor if you asked for one, and an appropriate adult.
Interview rooms can be small. But it should be comfortable enough for everyone to sit around a table. The police will record the interview on a tape recorder.
At the start of the interview, a police officer will say where the interview is taking place and the date and time the interview started. The police should caution you again on tape and ask if you understand what this means. The police officer starting the interview will say who is in the room. They will also ask each person to say their name and what they are doing there. You will need to agree that they have your name, date of birth and address right. During the interview, a police officer will say if and when there are any breaks during. At the end, the police officer will say the time the interview ends on the tape.
The police will be trying to understand your version of events. The police officers may ask detailed questions about the crime, or may just ask general questions. For example, they may ask you where you were or what you were doing at a certain time. The police may show you evidence during the interview, such as CCTV records or an item such as clothing or a weapon.
During the interview the police should not be argumentative in the way they ask questions or in their body language. The appropriate adult or solicitor can speak up during the interview. They can do this if they feel the police are being intimidating or if they feel you are becoming distressed. You can have breaks for meal times, and can ask for a drink or toilet break at any time.
At the end of the interview, the police officer will remove the tape from the tape recorder and seal it in a tape box with a sticker. They will ask everyone there to sign the sealed tape. This shows that everyone agrees that the tape was of your interview and also that the tape has not been tampered with if the police need to listen to it in the future. The police may then give you or your legal representative a copy. If they do not, you or your legal representative can ask for it later if you have to go to court.
After the interview you will need to stay in a cell while the CPS and police decide what to do. We look at what could happen afterwards here.
Decision to prosecute
This is the decision the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) make to charge someone with a crime and take them to court. If the police accuse you of a minor crime they may decide not to charge you. A minor crime might be shoplifting something that isn’t expensive or glittering.
If the crime is serious or you have been arrested for it before the police could pass the case to the CPS. The CPS decides to prosecute someone. They do this by looking at the evidence, and information about the crime. They look at:
- how serious the crime is,
- if you put other people at risk because of your crime, and
- if it is better for other people to punish you for the crime.
They deal with criminal cases that the police investigate. If you have to go to court, the CPS will try to show that you are guilty.
If you are held in a police station, the police have to keep checking that you need to be there.30 A police officer, called a review officer, does these reviews. This could be the custody sergeant.
The review officer decides if you should still be held in the police station. If the police do not have enough evidence to keep you in custody then they should let you go. If the police need time to get evidence, they can keep you in the station for longer.
There are rules about when the police should review if you still need to be kept at the police station.
- The first review must be no later than 6 hours after you were first held at the police station.
- The second review must be no later than 9 hours after the first review.
- After the second review, they should review it at least every 9 hours apart.
The time begins when you first arrive at the police station. If the police take you to hospital, the clock stops. It then starts again when you are taken back to the police station. If the police question you in hospital, this counts as time in custody and should be included in the review times.
It can be against the law to keep you at the station if the police do not do the reviews they are supposed to do. This means you might be able to get compensation for false imprisonment. The police should record their reviews on your custody record, which your appropriate adult and legal representative can look at and check.
The review officer should tell you if they are going to keep you at the police station and why as soon as possible. Before deciding they must ask you, your legal representative and appropriate adult for your views on you staying there.
After 24 hours at the police station
The police should not keep you in the station for more than 24 hours without charging you. If they don’t charge you after 24 hours, the police should let you go with or without bail. Sometimes, a police officer of superintendent rank or above, or magistrates’ court, can allow you to stay longer than 24 hours. This may happen if the police need to find or protect evidence in relation to a serious crime.
If you have a mental illness and you are vulnerable the police might not be able to keep you at the station for more than 24 hours. The police should think about options other than keeping you at the police station. The police should allow your legal representative to give their view on if you should stay at the police station any longer.
A magistrates’ court can allow the police to hold you for longer but not for more than four days. The police will need to give magistrates information about your case before allowing them to hold you for longer. You are allowed to see this information.
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