There to Help 2 report published

There to Help 2 (2019) report

NAAN's latest report on AAs for vulnerable adults has been featured in The Guardian.

Click here to go straight to the report or for the Guardian article click here: Report raises alarm over police detention of vulnerable suspects


Over 100,000 police detentions and voluntary interviews of mentally vulnerable suspects are still at risk of miscarriages of justice

A report has found that more than 100,000 police detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable adult suspects who have a mental illness, learning disability, brain injury or are autistic individuals, are carried out each year without the support of an ‘appropriate adult’– despite it being a legal requirement.

Previous studies have indicated that as many as 39% of adults in police custody have a mental disorder or intellectual disability[i].

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces in England and Wales, the There to Help 2 report, compiled by the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN)[ii], found that in 2017/18:

  • Police recorded the need for an appropriate adult (AA) in only 6% of around 1 million police detentions and voluntary interviews of adults;
  • There were large variations, particularly in voluntary interviews, as different police forces recorded rates of AA need between 0% to 24%.

6% is an improvement on the 3% found in the original There to Help report commissioned in 2015 by Theresa May as Home Secretary[iii], who at the time responded that “the priority must be to act to ensure that vulnerable people are provided with the support they are entitled to”. However, based on the highest performing police forces, at least 111,445 detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable adults still took place without need for an AA being recorded by police.

Even where vulnerability was identified, NHS data from assessments delivered in custody showed[iv]:

  • 34% of adults known to have a learning disability did not have an AA;
  • 73% of adults known to have a mental health diagnosis did not have an AA;
  • Certain mental illnesses were less likely to result in an AA; 54% of adults known to have dementia, and 19% known to have anxiety disorder such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), had an AA.

The report also found that where police had no access to an organised AA scheme, they were half as likely to record an adult as needing one. While AAs are often family members, this is not always possible. Locally organised schemes – most of which use volunteers – had expanded from 52% to 82% since the 2015 report. However, 16% of the population is not covered by a scheme. Despite being a key recommendation of There to Help (2015), local authorities are only legally required to run schemes for children, not for vulnerable adults.

The findings support those in a new book by Cardiff University academic Dr Roxanna Dehaghani who spent six months observing police custody and found a failure to implement the AA safeguard[v]

Chris Bath FRSA, chief executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network, and author of the report said, “It is in nobody’s interest for innocent people to have their lives ruined, or indeed guilty people to avoid convictions, due to the failure to ensure mentally vulnerable people are given appropriate adult support. Police must comply with their duty to secure an appropriate adult. It is only fair, both to them and to vulnerable people, that we ensure independent AA services exist in all areas”.

Dr Roxanna Dehaghani, Cardiff University said, “These latest figures demonstrate the need to ensure all vulnerable adults are given the correct support. But perhaps the more significant issue is that there still exists no statutory duty on any agency to provide these vital services. Provision across England and Wales remains patchy.”

- End –

For advance copies and media comment contact: Chris Bath, chief executive, NAAN

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mobile: 07712713162

Twitter: @aa_naan


Notes to Editors

  • The National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) is a charity and membership organisation set up by frontline practitioners. NAAN’s President is Lord Patel of Bradford OBE and it has around 90 member organisations across England and Wales. The charity wants to see that every child and vulnerable adult detained or interviewed by police has their rights and welfare safeguarded effectively by an appropriate adult.
  • The AA role was established by Parliament under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Codes of Practice, following miscarriages of justice against vulnerable people – in particular false confessions. In 1972 Colin Lattimore, an 18 year old with a mental age of 8, was convicted of manslaughter alongside two boys aged 14 and 15.  Confessions were elicited after hours of interrogation, alleged intimidation and assault by police; all without legal, parental or other adult advice. After years of incarceration, new evidence proved their innocence and a public outcry led to first to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure 1981 and then to the PACE Act 1984.
  • The AA role involves providing children and vulnerable adults with support, advice and assistance to protect their welfare, ensure they understand what is happening, and can use their rights – such as the right to legal advice[vi]. The role is defined in PACE Code C 2018 paragraph 1.7A.
  • Under PACE Code C, police must secure an appropriate adult for suspects that are under 18 or whom they suspect, may be vulnerable.
  • The Home Office changed the definition of who is considered vulnerable under PACE Code C in July 2018. Previously an AA was required whenever an adult had any mental disorder or was otherwise mental vulnerable. The revised Code sets out a more complex functional test. However, There to Help 2 relates to the original definition in PACE Code C 2017.
  • Under PACE 1984, courts may refuse to admit evidence that was gained without an appropriate adult present (sections 76-78 Confessions, Confessions by mentally handicapped persons, and Exclusion of unfair evidence). Courts have quashed convictions on appeal as a result of no AA being present.

[i] McKinnon I. and Grubin, D. (2013) Health screening of people in police custody – Evaluation of current police screening procedures in London, UK. European Journal of Public Health. 23(3):399-405, found that 38.7% of adults in police custody had mental disorders including intellectual disability according to clinical interviews.

[ii] The National Appropriate Adult Network is a registered charity that seeks to ensure all children and vulnerable adult suspects have an effective appropriate adult.

[iii] Home Secretary at the Policing and Mental Health Summit. October 2014.

[iv] NHS England Liaison and Diversion conducts screening and assessments for vulnerability in police custody.

[v] Dehaghani, R. (2019) Vulnerability in police custody: police decision-making and the appropriate adult safeguard. Routledge. URL: https://www.routledge.com/Vulnerability-in-Police-Custody-Police-decision-making-and-the-appropriate/Dehaghani/p/book/9781138094604

[vi] Legal advice is not mandatory. Children and vulnerable adult suspects are often discouraged form taking legal advice due to unfounded fears, such believing they have to pay, that it suggests that they are guilty, or that they do not need one because they know they are innocent.

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