Calls to ban holding of children in police cells

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MORE than 11,000 children under 14 are held overnight in police cells each year, according to a new Sheffield University report.

Campaigners seized on the figures and have called for the practice to be banned - calling it ‘a dangerous and frightening practice that does more harm than good’.

Report author Dr Layla Skinns said there appeared to be a breakdown in the referral process between police custody and local authority accommodation.

“Local authority accommodation does not appear to be being provided because there isn’t the availability or because requests for it are not being made in the first place,” she said.

“Spending the night in a police cell is likely to be a frightening and intimidating experience for children who will be placed in the same environment as adults.

“This needs to change. Other options need to be explored, such as greater use of police bail or emergency foster care.”

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show a total of 52,847 children under 16 were detained overnight in 2008 and 2009, including 11,540 under 14.

But the figures were based on replies from just 24 of the 43 forces in England and Wales, and did not include Britain’s largest force, the Metropolitan Police, suggesting the actual number of children detained overnight could be much higher.

Frances Crook, chief executive for the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “I was horrified to discover how prevalent the practice of holding young children in police cells for one or even several nights was across the country. What children need is somewhere safe, not somewhere secure. It needs to change.”