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A new Home Office report has highlighted a gap in the protection of vulnerable people who find themselves being interviewed by the police. Since the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, police should obtain the services of someone called an ‘Appropriate Adult’ to ensure the welfare of people with a mental disorder whilst they are interviewed by the police, and make sure they understand what is going on.
An appropriate adult could be a family member, or it could be a health or social care worker who knows the person, or who is experienced in working with people with a mental disorder. Their role is there to protect the person and the police, so that any case for prosecution has been established fairly, and some areas have organised volunteer schemes.
The problem highlighted in this new report is that Appropriate Adults are not always sitting in on police interviews with vulnerable adults, and part of the reason, is that it is no-one’s statutory responsibility to provide an appropriate adult – there is a responsibility for local authorities to provide this service for children in custody, but not adults. The onus is on the Custody Sergeant find one but that can be very difficult in some areas and at certain times of the day or at night.
A new Home office report estimates a quarter of a million people each year should have an appropriate adult when they are in police custody but are not getting one. You can view the report called ‘There to help’ here.
If you, or a member of your care staff team were asked to be an appropriate adult, would you know what it entails? It’s not an easy role and should not be underestimated. One of the things the report highlights, is the importance of training for the role and that police officers would not have the time to properly explain the role to a new Appropriate Adult. There is, however, a lot of literature available and I recommend the Home Office Guide here.
An impossible job
Why is there so much difficulty in ensuring a comprehensive appropriate adult service?
- Police officers or Forensic Health Services not identifying mental vulnerability. The definition of mental disorder is so potentially wide, the estimate of a quarter of a million could be way under the mark!
- The clock is ticking in police custody - there are strict time limits on how long people can be detained before they are charged or released, and appropriate adults may not arrive quickly enough.
- No-one’s responsibility – it falls entirely on the police to try and find an appropriate adult
- People not getting training how to act as an appropriate adult – the ITV drama Appropriate Adult about the Fred West case showed the dangers of not knowing the boundaries of the role.
David Beckingham – QCS Expert Mental Health Contributor