Eight-year-old child held in police cell overnight, new figures reveal

22,795 under-18-year-olds were held in police cells in 2014-2015

Alexandra Sims
Saturday 30 January 2016 18:29
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Merseyside Police said just three out of 73 children were transferred to council accommodation
Merseyside Police said just three out of 73 children were transferred to council accommodation

An eight-year-old was among tens of thousands of children held overnight in police cells last year, new figures have revealed.

22,795 under-18-year-olds were held in police cells in 2014-2015, including one child who was held for 15 days, according to data obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request.

Gloucestershire Police revealed they held the eight-year-old overnight.

The figures, from 39 forces in England, reveal the high number of children detained overnight has actually decreased from previous years. In 2011-2012, 41,789 children were held in police custody overnight.

Holding children in police cells is expected to be an emergency measure when alternative secure accommodation is unavailable.

Under UK law, once charged any suspect under-18 should be bailed to their home or transferred to council accommodation, unless it is impracticable, such as moving them in the middle of the night.

Merseyside Police said just three out of 73 children were transferred to council accommodation in June and July 2015.

Forces said there was a "lack of alternative accommodation", while local councils said it was difficult to find emergency care.

Jennifer Twite, a barrister with Just For Kids, a charity campaigning on behalf of children in the justice system, told the broadcaster that in eight years of representing children she had never known a child to be transferred to alternative accommodation, adding the situation was "shocking and unacceptable".

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which independently assesses police forces said: “No police force is doing enough work with local authorities to get secure accommodation.” They added some forces had stopped requesting the facility.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told the BBC: “The police know cells are not a nursery or a school. They are not an appropriate place for children to be.

“Police stations are noisy and full of adults – some of whom are drunk and dangerous.

“The cells are often subterranean and really unpleasant places.”

Last week, Olivia Pinkney, the National Police Chiefs Council's lead officer for children and young people, urged local police forces to improve their dealings with children calling on them to treat young people according to their age rather than the offence they have may have committed.

Ms Pinkney said improvements in how police understand and communicate with young people were moving at a "pedestrian" pace, Children and Young People Now reports.

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