New figures have revealed that 22,000 children, including an eight-year-old, were held overnight in police cells in 2014-15 by English forces. The shocking figures have led to an admission by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) – who assess police forces – who said that some constabularies had "never known secure accommodation to be made available for children".
UK law states that once a youth, under 18, is charged with a crime they should then be bailed to their home or transferred to 'local authority accommodation' unless this is impracticable or secure accommodation is not available. Some police authorities believe that there is a shortage in alternative accommodation whilst local authorities blame difficulties in finding emergency care.
But criminal experts have warned that police authorities are breaching their statutory duties by keeping under-18s in adult cells overnight. Across 39 police forces in England 22,792 under-18s where kept in police cells including one who was held for 15 days or 380 hours.
The figures, obtained by the BBC, revealed that the number of children that had spent a night in cells had dropped dramatically – from 41,789 in 2011-12. Merseyside police said that they successfully transferred just three out of 73 children to council accommodation between June and July 2015 and Gloucestershire Police said the youngest child it held in a cell overnight was just eight years old.
Barrister Jennifer Twite, a barrister with Just For Kids, a national charity that campaigns for children in the justice system, said a night in the police cells can have a "terrible impact" on children. She said: "In my eight years of representing children, I have never once known a child to be transferred to overnight accommodation.
"The number of children held overnight is shocking and unacceptable. Local authorities are under a legal duty to provide overnight accommodation for these children."
The UK government say that the responsibility to make sure rules were being followed was down to chief constables. The HMIC, which independently assesses police forces, said some forces had "never known secure accommodation to be made available for children and had stopped requesting this facility. No police force is doing enough to work with local authorities to get secure accommodation".