Records, samples and searches

All aspects of a person’s detention in custody are recorded, encompassing the legal duty of how a person is treated or cared for, along with actions connected with the investigation and securing the safety of persons detained and staff.

This may involve necessary searches and the taking of evidential or identification samples as part of the investigation which are documented within the custody record.

Additional information

Custody record

When a person is detained at a police station, a custody record is created and becomes a live record of everything in relation to the person arrested. This will contain time of arrival, circumstances of arrest and reason to be detained, the police officers involved and if detention is authorised by the custody officer. The document will also contain details of any search and property recorded combined with a risk assessment asking a series of question concerning their health and welfare.

The document details the rights they are entitled to, when they were given and what action has been taken, for example which solicitor has been contacted, their choice of letting relatives or friends know where they are and any other aspect in relation to the person detained.

The document will continue to be updated and evolve whilst the person is in custody covering any actions, interviews, assessments, subsequent authorities and welfare checks whilst in custody. A solicitor or appropriate adult is entitled to look at a custody record in connection with a person in custody.

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Searches in custody

The police have a duty to establish what a person has with them on arrival at custody and this will involve the person being searched. There is a legal authority to search people and this forms part of a duty of care.

Items will be kept by police if they could be used to cause harm to anyone, damage property, interfere with evidence, help someone escape or if they could be evidence in relation to any offence.

The way people are searched and by who are governed by law and policy. For example, the officer conducting a search will be of the same sex. There are exceptions to this such as when a person undergoing gender reassignment may have preferences in connection with personal dignity.

There are different searches conducted which depend on the circumstances and level of concerns, for example strip searches are authorised when this is the only means to establish what a person may have concealed on them. Such searches are recorded on the custody record along with the authorisation.

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Strip searches

A strip search is only conducted when authorised by the custody sergeant and considered necessary to remove an item that may be concealed which the person is not allowed to retain. Such a search is conducted by officers of the same gender but there are potential exceptions if the person to be searched lives their life as a person of a different gender and prefers to be recognised and treated in this way. In such circumstances a careful assessment is made as to what’s appropriate for the respectful dignity of the person and the officers or staff members conducting the search.

When strip searches are conducted, due regard is taken for privacy and dignity and only the minimum number of staff will be involved, normally at least two. It is conducted as quickly as possible with the person allowed to dress as soon as the procedure is complete.

A entry is made on the custody record of any strip searches authorised and conducted, who was present and whether any articles were found.

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Intimate searches

These are exceptional searches where a body orifice (other than the mouth) is searched. They are considered necessary when a person may have anything concealed they could use to injure themselves or others at the station or have possession of a class A drug with intent to supply.

Such a search requires the authority of a police inspector or above and generally involves a medical professional conducting the search. Such an authority is granted when it is the only means to remove such items when communication and negotiation have not been successful in getting the person to hand the item(s) to police.

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Fingerprints, DNA and photographs

The police take fingerprints impressions, a DNA sample and a photograph of anyone in custody arrested for a recordable offence. These samples are referred to as ‘biometrics’. There is a legal authority to take these samples without consent and it forms part of a national process in England and Wales to record and identify people involved in offences.

All fingerprints and DNA samples will be subject of a speculative search, where they are compared to a national database of DNA and fingerprint information.

However, offences differ in their seriousness and the outcome of an investigation may not necessarily result in a prosecution and conviction. Therefore these samples - and profiles derived from them - may or may not be kept indefinitely (if not, they will be destroyed). The exception is where an application can be made to the Biometrics Commissioner by the police to retain samples for an extended period if a person has been arrested but not charged.

If a person is convicted of a certain serious offences - called ‘qualifying offences’ - the identification records may be retained indefinitely. Qualifying offences are listed on the Government's website.

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Identification pictures or videos

As part of an investigation where there is a dispute as to the identification of the person suspected of committing an offence, a picture in the form of an identification video may be considered, consisting of the face and shoulder. This process requires the person’s consent.

The image is then formatted electronically by another agency, which provides an identification package in accordance with law. This can then be shown to witnesses instead of what used to be called an ‘identification parade’ and a detainee’s solicitor can view and comment on the process.

If a person does not consent to this process, an alternative method may be used to test whether a witness may be able to identify a person’s image.

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Blood, urine and other samples

In connection with drink or drug driving, the police can require a sample of breath, urine or blood and it can be an offence to refuse. A breath or urine sample can be taken by a police officer but blood samples are only taken by a medical professional.

In connection with other serious criminal offences, samples of blood, urine, dental impressions or samples from an intimate area requires the authority of a senior officer combined with the consent of the person the samples will be from. Such samples are taken by a medical professional (except in the case of urine) and any dental impressions are taken by a forensic dentist.

Non-intimate samples include saliva and swabs or samples from a non-intimate part of the body. Where necessary, these can be taken without consent if a person has been arrested in connection with a recordable offence.

Due regard is given concerning a person’s dignity with such processes and are conducted in a way to minimise any embarrassment. For example if clothing needs to be removed, the search is conducted by persons of the same sex (unless a medical professional) and out of view from others.

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Retention of identification samples or profiles

The Protection of Freedom Act 2012 requires that data (or profiles) derived from samples are destroyed after a period of time if a person is arrested for a recordable offence. The following gives a brief overview:

  • If a person is arrested for an alleged minor offence where samples were taken but the person was not charged, the scan of the fingerprints and DNA profile may be held until the conclusion of the investigation. If the matter was a qualifying offence, the police may apply to retain them for a maximum of up to five years.
  • If an adult or young person has been charged with an offence but not convicted the identification profiles may be retained for three years. The police can apply to retain them for longer.
  • Where an adult or young person is convicted of a qualifying offence, the profiles will be retained indefinitely. This includes Adult cautions, Youth cautions or previously used Reprimands and Final Warnings.
  • Where an adult (18 or over) has been convicted of any offence, the identification profiles may be retained indefinitely. This includes Cautions (warnings).
  • A person under 18 years convicted of a recordable offence and given a custodial sentence of more than five years, the identification profiles will be held indefinitely.
  • A young person given a custodial sentence for the first time of less than five years, the identification profiles will be held for five years plus the length of the prison sentence.
  • Where an adult or young person receives a penalty notice for disorder the identification profiles may be held for two years.
  • A young person convicted for a second time while identifications samples are still held, the data can be retained indefinitely.

More information is available on the website.

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Documents on leaving custody

When a person leaves custody they are provided with documents such as a charge or bail sheet (if applicable) which contain important information such as the date and time to return at a police station or attend court.

If there are any issues about which a person may benefit from support, they are provided with an information leaflet with contact details for other agencies. For example, Arch Initiatives, who visit the custody unit supporting people whose lives are affected by drugs and alcohol.

Anyone who has been held in police detention is entitled to a copy of their custody record after they have been released.  If requested, this will be provided as soon as practicable. Any solicitor or appropriate adult involved with the person in custody at the time is also entitled to have a copy. This entitlement lasts for 12 months since the date of release.

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Source: North Wales Police

Non Emergency Directory (NED)

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