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October 2020
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Custody Sergeant sentenced

The following statement is issued in the name of Assistant Chief Constable Patrick GEENTY;

-Following an incident that occurred within the custody suite at Melksham Police Station in Wiltshire 2 years ago a 57year old woman prisoner sustained an injury to her face. The court was told at an earlier hearing that on 4th July 2008 the woman had been taken to the Police Station after being arrested for failure to provide a breath test.

We are extremely concerned when anyone is injured whilst in our custody and the court has decided that this injury was as a result of a criminal assault by Sergeant Mark ANDREWS a member of Wiltshire Police who was performing duty as a Custody Sergeant at the time. Wiltshire Police has formally apologised to the injured lady for the assault she suffered whilst in our care.

We respect the decision of the court today in sentencing Sergeant ANDREWS to 6 months imprisonment and we will carefully consider the comments of the trial judge so as to determine any further action that is necessary.

The incident was reported by another Police Officer within the custody centre who was concerned at what had taken place. The Officer found herself in a very difficult situation created by her own supervisor but performed her duty in accordance with the highest standards expected of a Police Officer in bringing this unacceptable incident to the attention of another supervisor. She has certainly been thanked and praised for her actions but media comments about various awards are pure speculation at this time.

Immediately the other supervisor was made aware of the incident an investigation was commenced and, the Sergeant concerned was subsequently removed from public facing duties. Wiltshire Police voluntarily referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission who decided that they were satisfied that a local investigation should be conducted by Wiltshire Police. This investigation resulted in a file being sent to the Crown Prosecution Service which led to the trial of Sergeant Andrews.

People have a right to expect that the police will always act by placing the safety and welfare of the public as their first priority. This is particularly so when in police custody when irrespective of the reason for their detention, people should feel and be safe.

There is no greater responsibility on the police than the care of people in our custody and considerable effort and great importance is placed on ensuring that our processes, systems, training and behaviours are directed towards facing up to that responsibility at all times.

Some 16,000 people are dealt with annually within police custody centres in Wiltshire and the public will understand that this environment can be very difficult with hostility, conflict and violence towards staff often occurring – although these conditions can never excuse or condone any form of unacceptable or unlawful behaviour by Police Officers or Police Staff. However, it is important to put this difficult job performed on behalf of the public into context. Since this incident occurring two years ago, in excess of 30,000 people have been dealt with in custody centres in Wiltshire. During that time there have been no other serious assaults of this nature and although there have been a total of 13 complaints of assault; none have been substantiated following investigation.

Despite the rigour and effectiveness of our systems and training, it will never be possible to provide a 100% assurance that our guidelines, on occasions, will not be broken. Whilst that is unpalatable, the reality is that policing is complex and difficult and again we repeat, there can never be any excuse for excessive behaviour by police officers or police staff. We are determined to learn any lessons that emerge from this case and we will not shirk from our responsibility to continue to reduce the chance of any recurrence of such incidents.

This incident occurred over two years ago. Since then Wiltshire Police, as part of a wider national inspection programme, have undergone four independent inspections, two by the National Police Improvement Agency, one in respect of mentally disordered offenders and one by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and the Prisons Inspectorate. The latter inspection involved a total of 13 Inspectors arriving unannounced and spending four days with Wiltshire Police. They carried out a thorough inspection in respect of ‘Dignity and Respect’ and produced a favourable report highlighting national best practice and concluding that interaction with detainees was ‘Respectful’.

Independent visitors are able to enter any part of any custody centre unannounced. They regularly do so and have unrestricted access. No issues have been raised concerning the treatment of detained people. Wiltshire Police has CCTV throughout its custody centres and this is being upgraded now to comply with new national standards.
The unlawful use of excessive force by any member of Wiltshire Police will not be tolerated and immediately following the guilty finding of the court on 13th July 2010, Sergeant ANDREWS was suspended from duty with immediate effect. In compliance with Police Conduct Regulations, an internal ‘Conduct Hearing’ will now take place in October 2010.

This incident should not have happened and I am very sorry that we let this lady down. Although she had been lawfully arrested, she was not charged with any offence.

I hope that she is able to accept that Wiltshire Police puts safety and respect at the top of its priorities and I also want to reassure the general public that this case shows that the police will always take positive action against any of its own members who act outside of the law.”

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