I am often asked if I enjoy retirement, my usual response being that I don’t especially recommend it. I was fortunate to have a career, as a publisher, that provided lots of colleagues most of whom I liked, apart from a few snakes. I also spent a great deal of time with authors and editors, mostly medical practitioners, whose company I greatly enjoyed. There is much there that I miss.
But retirement is not just a time of loss, which is natural enough, but also of opportunity – to move back to Yorkshire, for a start, but also to try new things, things unconnected to former professional endeavours. Being appointed an Independent Custody Visitor (ICV) by the North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA) was a real stroke of luck.
I have been able to stay out of police stations all my life, thanks to strict parents and an inborn aversion to the idea of incarceration, though I did once pop into Malton nick to hand in a wet tenner I found in Finkle Street one rainy day. Now I’m in and out of Scarborough HQ – nine visits in April and May, four more scheduled in June – and I feel less and less uneasy every time.
Police Authorities have a statutory duty to maintain ICV schemes, which are operated by volunteers from a variety of backgrounds, whose only qualifications are that they live or work in the authority area and are over 18. There are some disqualifications, of course; if you are a serving police officer or married to one, for example, or if you’ve ever robbed a post office, that will keep you out, and a few others.
The Scarborough ICV panel has thirteen volunteers, who undertake to make at least eight visits a year, to attend various meetings, and to undergo regular training. What we do is to go into the custody suite, talk to the detained persons (who can refuse to see us – we operate in pairs) to ensure that they are being given their rights, to legal representation crucially, and that they are being treated decently in respect of nourishment, adequate rest, medical attention if required. And all this in a clean and safe environment. What is it like in there, I am often asked. It’s just like you see on the telly – custody sergeants, raised up behind a counter from which they have a perfect view of their fiefdom, from which they manage everyone, the willing and the reluctant, and take responsibility for the process.
I have to say, Scarborough is a cracking spot. Spotlessly clean, cheerful and calm staff who ooze equanimity, and roomy digs all en-suite. If ever crime disappears in North Yorkshire, and you fancy a few days in Scarborough, you could do worse than contact the custody sergeant and see if you can rent a room.
The food is not fine-dining, however, a possibility that had not occurred to one detainee I met who, when we discussed eating arrangements, told me that he was very fond of seafood and particularly partial to lobster. I didn’t tell the sergeant; he was still reeling from the breakfast request he’d had earlier – poached eggs on toast, croissants, and a Mars Bar.