Essex Police custody cell closures see officers used 'as a taxi service'

Braintree, Colchester and Chelmsford police stations Image copyright Google
Image caption The custody suite in Braintree (l) is permanently shut, the suite in Colchester (centre) is closed for refurbishments and the suite in Chelmsford (r) closed on Tuesday because of buzzer issues

Police officers have been used "as a taxi service" amid custody cell closures, it is claimed.

Cells at Colchester police station were shut last month for improvements to be made. It meant those arrested were instead taken to Chelmsford or Clacton.

But BBC News has now learned the cells at Chelmsford were closed on Tuesday because their buzzers were not working.

One solicitor told the BBC a colleague held a police interview at a client's house rather than wait for a cell.

Essex Police confirmed the Chelmsford closure but said the problems had since been fixed and its cells reopened.

The former custody suite at Braintree Police is permanently closed and the custody suite in Colchester is expected to remain closed for a number of weeks.

Image caption Lawyer Caroline Woodley said she had sought reassurances from divisional police commanders to ensure lawyers can get to see clients

Caroline Woodley, a defence solicitor working in the north of the county, told the BBC: "Chelmsford was closed today [Tuesday] due to the cell buzzers not working.

"This means officers having to travel to other stations and some officers have been just deployed as a taxi service ferrying people between the two.

"Voluntary attendees at Colchester police station are finding it impossible to get into custody. We are obviously having to travel further afield which will in turn cost the taxpayer in legal aid.

"Last week my colleague and a police officer gave up trying to get into custody to do an interview and went to the client's house where a contemporaneous note interview was done instead."

She said a complaint had been lodged with Chelmsford police because they were not contacted about two of her firm's clients.

A spokesman for Essex police said the Chelmsford custody suite was shut on Tuesday "to carry out essential maintenance work" adding: "A routine inspection of Colchester police station's custody facilities has highlighted defects which could have health and safety or welfare implications for detainees.

"A programme of works has been commissioned and the custody suite will be closed for a number of weeks. Custody suites in Chelmsford and Clacton will be used to detain prisoners until Colchester's facilities have reopened."

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