How easy is it to find a PC at dead of night?

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The Independent Online

In the dead of night most people are tucked up in bed. But if you are out wandering the streets and suddenly require the services of the police how easy is it to gain access to your local station at 3am?

In the dead of night most people are tucked up in bed. But if you are out wandering the streets and suddenly require the services of the police how easy is it to gain access to your local station at 3am?

This was put to the test in Cumbria, a mainly rural county of small towns and villages. The central police station in Carlisle, the county's biggest urban area, was visited in the small hours yesterday to see how easy it is get help. The front desk is open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, but not during the night. The front door is open and the police sign is brightly lit offering hope of seeing a police officer, but once inside the front porch the door to the reception area is locked.

The only way of speaking to an officer is through an intercom system - which can take five minutes to work out - and if your call is not an emergency you won't actually be able to see an officer. The instructions clearly state: "In case of emergency or urgent inquiries outside these hours (8am-8pm) use the intercom and speak clearly." But there is always someone in the station so help is at hand to deal with an emergency.

About 10 miles west of Carlisle is the small market town of Wigton where station opening times are restricted to 9.15am-12 noon Monday to Friday. After these hours the station is manned but officers are usually out in their patrol cars answering calls. We were able to see two police officers who had just returned from an emergency call. One of the PCs said: "You are very lucky to catch us in. It is very rare we are here. But if we are in and you bang on the door hard enough we will answer." He wouldn't reveal how many officers worked in the station during the night but added: "There are not enough of us."

After leaving Wigton we headed for the even smaller town of Silloth, which lies 15 miles away on the coast of Cumbria looking out on to the Irish Sea - the kind of place where you are more likely to see tumbleweed rolling past than another person or car. The police station has no official opening hours and entry is by request only.

The PC in Wigton said: "Silloth station is only accessible by request. If a member of the public wants to see a police officer in Silloth they must ring Wigton and ask for one to meet them there. It is not for emergency purposes but for members of the public who want to speak to an officer or tell us of their concerns.

"We occasionally use the station to have lunch if we have been working in the area. If we have arrested someone in Silloth we may conduct the interview there."

Banging on the door at 3.30am is a waste of time because there is no one there. There are instructions on the front door, though, that tell you how to contact police in an emergency: "When the station is unmanned contact Workington Police Station (20 miles away) on 01900 602422. The nearest public telephone box is 150 yards along the street opposite the Golf Hotel."

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