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In custody: What to expect

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If you know someone who is in custody

If you know someone who has been arrested and taken into police custody you might want to speak to them or see them. 

Here you can find out what you can and can't do when someone is in custody.

Frequently Asked Questions

I've found out someone I know has been arrested and is in a police custody suite. Can I see them?

No, visitors are not allowed into police custody suites. Custody suites do not work like prisons. We don't have the staff or the facilities of a prison and therefore it's exceptionally rare that we allow detainees to have visitors.

The only exceptions are for children under the age of 17 or vulnerable adults who require an 'appropriate adult' to be with them by law.

Also, after someone is charged and remanded into custody awaiting a court appearance, we may allow a visitor as the risk of it affecting an ongoing investigation is low.

How will I know when someone who was in custody has been released?

If a detainee is released, they are allowed to phone a family member or friend to arrange to get home. Alternatively they will be issued with a travel warrant to get home by public transport.

Can I speak to someone in custody on the phone?

There are legal restrictions around phone calls in custody suites.

The detainee is allowed one phone call to tell someone they are in custody.

Due to Data Protection and privacy laws custody officers are not allowed to disclose to anyone over the phone or in person if someone is under arrest and in custody, unless the detainee gives their permission for the information to be disclosed.

Can I bring food to someone in custody?

Meals are provided to all detainees in custody. Only in certain circumstances would custody officers allow professionally prepared and sealed food items to be taken in for a detainee, for example, a prepared meal from a supermarket that is unopened.

Home cooked meals or meals that have been opened are not allowed.

Custody suites have medical teams that can make recommendations around food for specific dietary requirements, for example, gluten free.

If you are taken into custody

If you’re arrested, you’ll usually be taken to a police station, held in custody in a cell and questioned. 

After you've been questioned, you may be released with no further action, released on bail pending further enquiries or charged with a crime. 

Here you will find information about your rights while you're in custody.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I'm arrested, can I get free legal advice?

You have the right to free legal advice (legal aid) if you are questioned at a police station. If you turn down the free legal advice, you can change your mind later.

If you've been arrested, you must be told about your right to free legal advice before you are questioned at a police station.

You can:

  • Ask for the police station’s duty solicitor (they’re available 24 hours a day and are independent of the police)
  • Tell us you would like legal advice - we will contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC)
  • Ask us to contact a solicitor (eg. your own)
  • For less serious offences (eg. being disorderly) you may be offered legal advice over the phone, instead of a duty solicitor.

The advice is free and independent of the police.

Can the police question me without legal advice?

Once you’ve asked for legal advice, we can’t question you until you’ve got it - with some exceptions.

We can make you wait for legal advice in serious cases, but only if a senior officer agrees. The longest you can be made to wait before getting legal advice is 36 hours after arriving at the custody suite (or 48 hours for suspected terrorism).

If I am arrested, will I be searched?

Yes, you will be searched and your possessions will be kept by the police custody officer while you’re in the cell.

I'm under 17. Will I be treated differently if I am arrested?

If you’re under 17 or a vulnerable adult, we must try to contact your parent, guardian or carer.

We must also find an ‘appropriate adult’ to come to the custody suite to help you and be present during questioning and searching. An appropriate adult can be your parent, guardian, carer, a social worker or a a family member, friend or volunteer aged 18 or over.

Where is personal information you take from me if I am arrested kept?

Information from fingerprints and samples is stored in a police database. You can find out if your information is stored on the police database by getting a copy of your police records from your local police station. You have to write to us to have your personal information removed from the police database.

However, we’ll only do this if an offence no longer exists or if anything in the police process (how you were arrested or detained) was unlawful.

If I am arrested, what will I be questioned about?

We have the right to question you about the crime you're suspected of - this will be recorded in an interview room.  You don’t have to answer the questions but there could be consequences if you don’t.  We must explain this to you by reading you the police caution.

You do not have to say anything. However, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

If I am arrested, will I have my photograph and fingerprints taken?

Yes, we have the right to take photographs of you. We can also take fingerprints and a DNA sample (from a mouth swab or head hair root) from you as well as swab the skin surface of your hands and arms. We don’t need your permission to do this.

If I am arrested, will I be allowed to take any of my property into the cell?

Everything in your possession will be taken from you before you enter the cell, including your mobile phone, bag and anything in your pockets. You will also be asked to remove your belt and shoelaces.

If I am arrested, can you take blood and urine samples from me?

We need both your permission and the authority of a senior police officer to take samples such as blood or urine, or to take dental impressions.

This doesn’t apply when the blood or urine sample is taken in connection with drink or drug driving.

If I am arrested, how long can you keep me in custody for?

  • We can hold you in custody for up to 24 hours before we have to charge you with a crime or release you.
  • We can apply to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours if you’re suspected of a serious crime, for example, murder.
  • If you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act, you can be held without charge for up to 14 days.

I've been released on bail. What does this mean?

If there’s not enough evidence to charge you at that time, you can be released on police bail. You don’t have to pay to be released on police bail but you’ll have to return to the custody suite or police station for further questioning when asked.

If you’re charged and we think there’s a risk you might commit another offence, fail to turn up at court, intimidate witnesses or obstruct the course of justice, we can impose conditional bail. This means your freedom will be restricted in some way. For example, a curfew could be imposed on you if the offence was committed at night.

How will I get home if I'm released after being arrested?

We will try to get you home safely. You will be allowed to use the phone to contact a family member or friend to arrange to get home. Alternatively, you will be issued with a travel warrant to use public transport.

What happens if I am charged with a crime?

If you're charged with a crime you will be given a ‘charge sheet’ which sets out the details of the crime you are being charged with.

We will decide if you can go home until the court hearing - but you may have to follow certain rules, known as ‘bail’ or if you should be kept in police custody until you are taken to court for your hearing.

If I am charged with a crime, which court will I go to?

Your first court hearing after you're charged with a crime will be at a magistrates’ court or a ‘virtual court’ using video technology - even if your trial will be at a Crown Court later on:

  • If you’re under 18, your first hearing will usually be at a youth court.
  • If you’re under 17, we must arrange for you to be held in local authority accommodation, if possible, before you go to court.
  • If you’re aged 12 to 16, we can decide to keep you at the custody suite if we think it will protect the public.

I'm not happy with how I was treated in custody. What can I do?

If you're unhappy with the way you've been treated in police custody you can make a complaint.