Custody suite set to close for an ‘upgrade’

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Fears that the temporary closure of police custody suites in Upper Bann may affect front line policing have been dismissed by the PSNI.

Local solicitors have voiced concern that the proposed closure of Lurgan custody suite next year and the current closure of Banbridge custody suite could have an impact on front line policing.

Richard Monteith of the Portadown and Lurgan Solicitor’s Association said: “The closure of these custody suites is having an impact on front line policing, legal staff and the people who have been arrested.

Mr Montheith said: “The PSNI is having to make substantial cuts which are going to effect all our society and hinder future arrests. It could put pressure on police not to arrest suspects.”

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Commander, Supt Davy Moore confirmed refurbishment work at a number of custody facilities across the province is well under way. “A custody strategy, which was developed as part of the organisation’s ongoing review into its current provision of suites, has identified some facilities for closure as they are under-utilised, and others which need modernisation to ensure they continue to meet health and safety requirements.

“In South Area, which includes Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District, work at the facility in Banbridge is expected to continue until December 2015. It is scheduled to re-open in early 2016 after which, work is planned to start in Lurgan custody suite.

“While the refurbishment is taking place in Banbridge followed by Lurgan, the custody facilities in Armagh, Dungannon, Omagh and Enniskillen will be available for arrests in the South Area.

“Work will commence in Antrim Custody Suite in September. At this time the Serious Crime Suite will move permanently to Musgrave Station in Belfast. The refurbished Antrim Custody Suite is expected to re-open by the end of March 2016. The overarching objective of the review is to ensure police provide the safest possible custody facilities for both detained persons, police officers and staff.”

Asked what happens to prisoners while the suites are being refurbished or if the nearest is full, he said: “Detained persons are sent to the nearest available custody suite which is suitable for that person’s needs (all detained persons vary). In the vast majority of cases detained persons from South Armagh and South Down are accommodated in Lurgan or Armagh, although in some cases they are transported further afield as the demand on facilities changes constantly. We have invested heavily in Banbridge and will do so in Lurgan. We will maintain capacity using our facilities in Armagh throughout all of these works.”

When asked about prisoners who have been held in police vehicles for hours before a place becomes available, Supt Moore said: “While this may happen on occasion, all cases are prioritised dependent on the needs of the detained person. To eradicate all queuing would mean massively over-resourcing our facilities. This would not be cost-effective.”

Following complaints from solicitors that they must travel long distances to clients, Supt Moore said: “We have not closed any suites locally. Rather, we are upgrading them. Armagh has been re-opened to assist Lurgan during the Banbridge refurbishment.” He also denied there were too few trained custody sergeants.

When asked if there is pressure on officers having to travel distances to carry out interviews and that it is time consuming with a knock on effect for front line policing, he said: “It has always been the case that occasionally officers have to travel to other areas in order to access detained persons. This happens most frequently when officers want to interview detained persons who have been arrested for alleged offences which are unconnected, and they wish to pursue an investigation into other allegations.”