Police to resist cells plan

Norfolk's top police officer said last night that the force would “strongly resist” attempts to use already stretched police cells to accommodate the overspill from the county's overcrowded prisons.

Norfolk's top police officer said last night that the force would “strongly resist” attempts to use already stretched police cells to accommodate the overspill from the county's overcrowded prisons.

Chief constable Carole Howlett's comments came after the Home Office announced l9 police forces nationwide - including Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - had been asked to make cells available to ease the prisons crisis.

Speaking a meeting of Norfolk Police Authority, Mrs Howlett said: “If we were asked to provide cells to accommodate convicted criminals it would prove extremely challenging.

“Our custody suites are already operating at full-stretch and we are currently looking at ways to extend our capacity. Any additional burden would be very demanding.

“We will strongly resist any calls to use police cells to house prisoners.”

The first of 500 inmates will be transferred to police custody tomorrow and it is likely other forces will be asked to set aside cells - and foot potentially crippling over-time bills for off-duty police officers to act as guards.

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The number of people imprisoned in Britain is on the brink of topping the government's self-imposed save limit of 80,000 and Norwich, Wayland and Blundeston prisons are all operating at or near capacity.

Bosses at Norfolk police were last month forced to shelve plans to build a new custody suite in Costessey to relieve its busiest station in Bethel Street, Norwich. The facilities at Bethel Street have been described as “unsatisfactory” and at busy time prisoners are regular ferried to Yarmouth and King's Lynn to free up space.

Stephen Bett, chairman of the police authority, said: “Using police cells for prisoners would be a non-started in Norfolk. We have not got enough cells to carry out our normal business.”

It is now estimated that the average cost of housing inmates in police cells will top £380 per prisoner per night. Disused cells at an unidentified station in Suffolk will accommodate up to eight prisoners while cells will be made available at various locations in Cambridgeshire.

Both forces said they were confident Operation Safeguard would not harm day-to-day policing.