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'Shopping centre jails' and widespread DNA testing planned

UK Daily Mail | March 15, 2007
MATTHEW HICKLEY

Shoplifters, people whose dogs foul the pavement, litter droppers, speeding drivers and those caught not wearing a seat belt could be fingerprinted or forced to give DNA under new Home Office proposals.

Further suggestions, aimed at easing the burden on police, include locking up drunks and vandals in short-term cell blocks in shopping centres and high streets.

The Home Office hopes a network of hundreds of new mini detention facilities could save frontline officers hours they currently spend escorting 'minor' offenders to police station custody suites and checking their identities, only to let them go with a fine or a caution.

Instead those arrested for straightforward and less serious offences could be held for up to four hours in a high street cell block until their identity is confirmed, freeing up officers to go back out on patrol.

But concerns were raised last night as hundreds of real police stations have closed in recent years and officers are under growing pressure to dispense instant justice instead of putting criminals before the courts.

Critics warned that temporary cell-blocks and fines could increasingly become a cheap substitute for charging and prosecuting serious offenders.

The proposals were published as part of Home Office plans for a major shake up of police powers, reforming the 20-year-old Police and Criminal Evidence Act which governs the way officers fight crime.

The paper claims most arrested suspects spend less than four hours in custody, often because officers suspect they are lying about their name and address.

Officers can then spend much of their shift filling in forms in a custody suite and checking an offender's identity - simply to be able to issue them with a caution or fine.

The new short-term holding facility located in shopping centres or town centres would feature basic cells which could be smaller than standard police station cells.

Suspects would be rapidly processed with their identities checked and fingerprints and DNA samples taken, and then released with an instant fine, or a court summons sent later by post.

Suspects in more serious cases which needed investigating would be transferred to a real police station.

Almost 900 police stations have closed in England and Wales over the past 14 years, with many more no longer open around the clock.

Concerns were highlighted in December when businessman Stephen Langford was beaten to death outside a police in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, which was closed to the public even though there were officers inside.

Forces are increasingly putting neighbourhood patrol officers in council buildings, community centres and even supermarkets in a bid to foster closer links with communities.

Meanwhile soaring numbers of crimes are being diverted into the instant justice system, with more offenders receiving cautions or instant fines, prompting warnings that quite serious criminals are getting away with the equivalent of a parking fine.

Most controversially police are urged to hand out £80 fines to shoplifters who steal goods up to a value of £200, and the crime is counted in official figures as being solved.

The number of fixed penalty fines give out by police more than doubled last year to 146,000.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "Whilst we support moves which allow police officers to process arrests quicker and spend more time on the beat, these facilities must not be an excuse to abandon proper procedure.

"Labour need to realise that you cannot short-circuit justice. Offenders must be properly prosecuted and punished, not effectively let off with a parking ticket."

The document also sets out proposals to allow police to carry on questioning criminal suspects after they have been charged with an offence - overturning a long-standing principle of British justice.

The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith opened a rift within the Government before Christmas by backing such a move - proposed by the Conservatives - as an alternative to controversial plans to let police lock up terror suspects for 90 days without charge.

The stance put the Government's senior law officer at odds with Tony Blair, who still wants to see the 90 day powers introduced despite the measure being thrown out by the Commons.

 
 

 

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