Posted: Wednesday 18th May 2016
I am a 71 year old Bristolian, born in Ashley Down in 1944 during the Second World War.
My family lived in Easton and I was educated at the old St George Grammar School, on leaving school at age 15 I spent almost my entire working life in Engineering, with the same Company both in Bristol and Chippenham until taking early retirement in 2001 aged 56.
Just previous to retirement I had applied to become a Magistrate in Bristol, and having been accepted I served as a Chairman on Adult, Youth and Family benches until having reached the age of 70 in October 2014 I had to retire under the Department of Justice rules.
I heard about the Appropriate Adult scheme firstly from Avon and Somerset police, then the Brandon Trust who run the scheme.
Having firstly to apply for an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Services certificate and then take on an amount of training with Brandon Trust I was accepted back in November 2015.
The role is not arduous, it requires an amount of free time and availability, a means of transport, is essential really, patience and a deal of understanding and empathy with people who have been detained with mental health concerns, learning difficulties, drugs and or alcohol problems or are in some other way vulnerable,
Most people, some of whom have never been detained before, find the entire experience very frightening and threatening and even those who have been through the system many times before can still find the whole experience very daunting. The whole process of being fingerprinted and photographed can be quite distressing to some people and an Appropriate Adult in attendance can help ease the process along.
Having been arrested and then being held in cells in either Patchway or Keynsham detention centres the first “friendly face” they see (with the exception of a solicitor) is probably an Appropriate Adult.
I have always been greeted, made welcome and treated with respect at Patchway by all the staff and officers, who, almost without exception, appreciate my presence.
All of the detained personnel that I have dealt with I believe have benefitted from the attendance of an Appropriate Adult.
I always introduce myself by my Christian name and enquire the name of the person I am dealing with even if I have already been advised by the investigating or charging officer.
I always ask if they feel o k, have seen a nurse or CARS worker, whether they have made contact to tell a close relative or friend where they are and why. If necessary I ask if they need a solicitor and if they do, (even if previously saying “no”) I advise the Custody sergeant accordingly.
Going through the charges I always ask if they understand the charge and why they have been detained and I have found that as time progresses more and more of a kind of relationship and an amount of trust develops.
Sitting in on interviews can be informative, unless of course they are “No comment” interviews, but even with “No comment” sessions I have almost invariably found that just making eye contact eye contact with the detained person helps them to relax and appear noticeably more at ease.
There have been occasions when I have noticed that an interviewee is becoming stressed or distressed and brought it to the notice of either the interviewer or solicitor and relevant action taken, a drink or a small break easing the situation.
Again if the person is to be bailed I will stay with them until they receive the Bail Conditions and make sure that they understand where and when they need to next appear, if the decision is to be made by the Crown Prosecution Service I advise the detained person and the Custody officer that I am leaving and they may need to call out a further Appropriate Adult at a later time depending on the CPS decision.
The most rewarding session I have attended this far is with a vulnerable person, who having made her statement at the Police station was offered the statement to read and sign. Having looked at it for several minutes it was very obvious that she had a quite serious literacy problem and so I offered to help, which she accepted and between us we managed to agree her statement and she was happy to sign it.
Whatever the outcome of interviews and whether the detained person is to be bailed or remanded, without exception, I have been warmly thanked by them, the interviewing officers and the custody staff.
For anyone from whatever profession or background –I would warmly recommend that being an Appropriate Adult is time well spent, in what I believe to be a very worthwhile cause.
Avon and Somerset Appropriate Adult Volunteer