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State of police cells prompts calls for improvements

THE poor state of Richmond upon Thames police cells has prompted a demand for urgent action.

David Talbot, chairman of the borough's Independent Custody Visiting Panel, has written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner regarding lack of cell space and outdated facilities.

Twickenham MP Dr Vincent Cable says the problem is now serious and recalls that last year the police even considered mobile cells to lock up late night drunks engaged in anti-social behaviour.

Dr Cable supports Mr Talbot's request to the Commissioner. He said: "There is no point asking the police to get tough with offenders if they have nowhere to put them until they get into court.

"Standards have also risen and the police have to use their scarce resources efficiently. This initiative is a useful reminder that while there is a popular clamour for more police officers, they must have proper facilities to do their job and that requires money."

The Custody Visiting Panel is a statutory body concerned with the welfare of detainees, their rights and entitlements. Mr Talbot says: "It is to the credit of the police in this borough that we rarely have concerns on how detainees are looked after. However, the age and infrastructure of the police cells is an ongoing problem.

"Unfortunately the cells were built in the Victorian times and it is now the 21st century.

"During winter, the female cell at Richmond is out of action on very cold days because it's too old to heat properly - adding to the problem of limited space."

He explains: "There is a small custody suite at Richmond, a small one at Twickenham and a moth-balled one at Teddington.

"It is a problem for the police because it slows down their job and makes them less efficient. If they have to use cells in Hounslow and Kingston it takes extra time to find that space and then transport people to other boroughs."

Mr Talbot stresses that the existing cells are not inhumane but detainees would benefit from more modern surroundings to guarantee the level of welfare they are now entitled to.

Chief Inspector Chris Phillips commented: "This is a problem being looked at London wide, not just here. But our cells fill up very quickly which means officers are sent to neighbouring boroughs with detainees. And if they're also full up it means going to stations anywhere in London - taking officers away from duties here.

"There really isn't enough cell space in the Richmond borough. We need an extension on the Teddington station or Twickenham to be rebuilt, but there just aren't the funds available."

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