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My visit to the Musgrave Police Station Coronavirus suite

Thu, 14 - May - 2020

Our Northern Ireland Appropriate Adult scheme (NIAAS) supports vulnerable people who have been detained in custody to ensure their rights are upheld. During Coronavirus, the work goes on.

“The Custody Sergeant gives the detainee her rights over the phone on open speaker and I introduce myself to the detained person at the door of the police cell. The interview soon begins. I feel myself struggling to breathe properly, probably from anxiety, and my shirt is saturated with sweat and sticking to my back. I feel hot and uncomfortable”

I am on the 5-11 shift tonight, plus on call overnight. It’s not long before my mobile rings. Is it Musgrave? Of course it is 99.9% of my calls recently are for Musgrave. I contact the custody staff in Musgrave in response to their request for an Appropriate Adult. I ascertain if the police are ready to proceed to interview and ask the important question is my requirement for downstairs or upstairs. The significance of upstairs is that this is the Coronavirus suite. These are the cells where any detained person displaying signs of the Coronavirus are held.  I put on an old set of clothes and leave a black bag just inside the front door of my apartment before proceeding to the station.

I arrive in Musgrave and park my car before heading into the station. I arrive at the first gate and use my right elbow to buzz the gate open to avoid touching the buttons.  The same process applies for the next two gates! This takes me into the reception area where PSNI staff buzz me through to the corridor leading to the custody suite. This door has a handle which I have no choice but to use my hand to open.  I arrive at the door at the end of the corridor and use the tip of my car key to engage the button to gain access to the suite. Another door handle that I must touch to physically open.

I arrive at the custody desk to report in and made use of the hand sanitizer that is provided.  Staff confirms I am required upstairs in the Coronavirus suite where a  full set of protective clothing awaits upstairs.

I hit the button allowing me entrance to the stairs up to the Coronavirus suite with the tip of my key and use my hip to push open the door. I am now entering the area through which any detained person suspected of displaying signs of the virus pass through.  My mask is in place, my folder is firmly under my arm and my hands are thrust deep in my pockets. Being careful not to touch anything I make my way upstairs again hitting the button with the tip of my key to prevent any possible contamination.  I enter the suite and am greeted b the custody sergeant,  who presents me with a copy of the custody record before inviting me around the back to get changed. I again use my hip to push open the door to allow me entry into the area where I am to get changed.

I am given a white suite, gloves, goggles, a mask and overshoes.  I get dressed with the only part of my skin exposed is the little strip between the top of my mask and the bottom of my goggles.  I find the combination of my concern that I am so close to individuals with the virus coupled with the claustrophobic feeling of being covered head to toe quite uncomfortable and almost immediately begin to sweat.

The interviewing officers inform me that they are going to carry out a blue book interview at the door of the cell. Initially I find myself relieved as the thought of not having to participate in a interview in the small confined interview room where the chairs are bolted to the ground making social distancing impossible. Unfortunately the downside of the blue book interview means a verbatim account of the interview has to be recorded which can take a considerable period of time.

The two officers and I move down the wing. I am genuinely concerned at this point, not just for myself but for my girlfriend who has received a letter advising her to self isolate for 12 weeks.  The fact I may be called to the Coronavirus suite as part of my AA roll means I have to make do with face time with her for at the least the next 12 weeks. I also consider that the apartment block I live in is filled with retired people whom may be susceptible to the virus, so I feel the responsibility that this carries.

The Custody Sergeant gives the detainee her rights over the phone on open speaker and I introduce myself to the DP at the door of the police cell. The interview soon begins. I feel myself struggling to breathe properly, probably from anxiety, and my shirt is saturated with sweat and sticking to my back. I feel hot and uncomfortable.

The police ask the detainee to keep her answers concise if she should choose to answer the police questions. The detainee however provides rambling answers which seem to take the police officers an age to record by hand in their blue book.

Eventually the interview draws to a close.  One of the officers stays dressed in the wing while the other officer and I strip off all the protective gear and bin it before leaving the wing. This in itself is quite daunting as I struggle to remove all the protective clothing without some part of it coming into contact with my skin.  It is such a relief to have the protective clothing removed. I feel I can breathe again!

The Sergeant reads the charge over the phone which is on loud speaker and allows me to engage with the detainee to ensure she understands what this means.

I then leave the Coronavirus suite, and stop off in the washroom to wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water before to heading to the car park. Just the same as on the way in, I have to use my hand to open two of the doors. I get into my car and use my hand sanitizer before applying my seat belt and driving home.

I arrive home; close the door and strip, putting all garments into the bag I had left by the door before leaving. I leave my shoes on the mat and immediately have a shower.  After my shower I using the outside of the bag to protect me from my clothes and place the clothes in the washing machine, hot wash.

If my phone rings again tonight for Musgrave upstairs the whole process begins again...





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