One night in police cell cost pounds 2,008

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The Independent Online
A PRISONER cost the taxpayer pounds 2,008 for one night's stay in a police cell in Dyfed-Powys, according to a report by Sir John Bourn, the head of the National Audit Office, writes Colin Brown.

His report showed some forces charging the Home Office more than bed and breakfast rates in West End hotels for prisoners to be held in police cells overnight.

The independent watchdog on public spending found so many discrepancies over the cost of keeping prisoners in police cells that Sir John, the Comptroller and Auditor General, qualified the accounts of the Home Office and demanded more answers.

The NAO found that the total annual cost of keeping prisoners in cells had risen from pounds 53.5m in 1990-91 to pounds 94m in 1991-92, but it also disclosed large variations between police forces in the charges they made to the Home Office.

The report, which is certain to increase the pressure on Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, to cut the numbers in police cells, will be investigated by the cross- party Commons Public Accounts Committee in the new year.

The lowest claim, from Surrey Police, was for pounds 30 per prisoner per day for 633 prisoners held in June 1991. The Home Office said the 'striking variations' were due mainly to the different levels of staffing. Large metropolitan forces such as Merseyside had large cell complexes which were cheaper to operate.