Posted: Tuesday 2nd June 2020
For Volunteers’ Week we spoke to Appropriate Adult Eltjo de Vries to find out more about why the role is important and the ongoing work to protect vulnerable people behind the doors of police custody.
What do Appropriate Adults do?
As a volunteer Appropriate Adult I support young people under the age of 18, or adults identified as vulnerable, when they have been arrested and brought into custody.
My role is to safeguard their rights, interests, welfare and entitlements during their time in custody. I support and facilitate communication by making sure the person understands what is happening and what they are being asked. In a sense, I am like a “buddy” during a difficult and stressful time.
As an Appropriate Adult I am independent of the police and do not give legal advice, but I am someone that detainees can confide in. I am not just an observer, I play an active role in the interview process; I have certain rights to question the interview and other processes where I feel there may be an issue.
I have to add that my experiences and dealings with the staff at Bridgwater Custody have been really good, we have really good relationships with the Custody Inspectorswhich is very beneficial to our work.
Why is your role important?
The role of Appropriate Adults is important because even if the person has been arrested before, it is still a daunting time. I go with and maintain no judgement throughout. I aim to make them feel supported and safe where their emotional wellbeing, dignity, legal rights and treatment are always at the forefront, regardless of what they have been arrested for, and ensure there is no reason for accusation of miscarriage of justice.
How has your role to the lockdown?
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic with the resulting “lockdown”, I have been called out more frequently – not because there has been an increase in crimes committed by young people or vulnerable adults, but because there are only a few of us volunteers not self-isolating or classed as vulnerable to the virus.
The awareness and protocols regarding social distancing, PPE, hand washing and other guidelines are added factors to consider and we adhere to these guidelines as much as possible to ensure our safety and the safety of those in custody.
We have also seen an increase of solicitors giving consultations and joining the interviews remotely, using telephone or video calls. This creates another barrier and my role in ensuring both young people and vulnerable adults understand the process and what is being asked of them is increasingly important.
What does being a volunteer mean to you?
For me, volunteering is being able to give to and aid someone selflessly. In my volunteering role as an Appropriate Adult my utmost concerns are for the detainee. I do this not to gain anything, but rather to be for that moment a steadying, calming and helpful point of contact for someone when they need it. I hope they understand that I am there to ensure their safety to the best of my ability.
Find out more about Appropriate Adults: https://www.appropriateadult.org.uk/