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Surrey Appropriate Adult Volunteer Service

The Surrey Appropriate Adult Volunteer Service (SAAVS) operates across the county of Surrey and supports vulnerable people during the period of their detention in police custody and during the police investigation.


The initial impetus was a police review of cases indicating a failure of justice and an unwillingness by statutory services to address the issues. Surrey police wished to find a solution to concerns about how to manage juvenile criminality in the absence of a concerned parent. In many cases where no parent or carer was available or interested, the police were unable to proceed with investigations. (The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) called for the role of an Appropriate Adult to be available to all people held in custody who are deemed to be vulnerable.) The Diocese was concerned with issues of justice and the risks of miscarriages of justice involving young and vulnerable people. SAAVS was established following a meeting betweenf senior members of the Diocese of Guildford and the police. The scheme is based on volunteers and the church was seen as having the best resources and experience. This has proved to have been a good judgement although much of the early experience relied on a great deal of goodwill.

The original scoping exercise took place in 1994 and the evidence was considered by a joint committee involving the police, social services and the Diocese. The findings led to a joint approach with funding from the county council secured for three years to establish the scheme. This funding has continued to this day with the scheme now independently managed by the Diocese.

How SAAVS works

An Appropriate Adult is someone who attends a police station to assist and advise a person detained in police custody where there is no parent, guardian social worker or other responsible adult (independent of the police) who can attend to support them. The detained person may be:

· a young person under 17 years of age;
· a vulnerable adult; for example, someone with a learning disability, mentally ill or with serious visual, aural or speech impairment.


An example given in the 2010 Annual Report:

Michael (name changed) is a 49 year old single man who lives with his aged father who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. He is a sufferer of Asperger’s Disorder; he is on medication and, at the time of his arrest, was slightly intoxicated. He is known to self harm. He is on a suspended sentence and a restraining order for causing harassment to Linda, a neighbour. He wanted George, his father, to attend the police station but this was not possible due to the parent’s ill-health.


The role of the Appropriate Adult is to:

· look after the detained person’s welfare;
· protect the person’s rights;
· explain police procedures;
· ensure that important individuals such as relatives/friends are informed about the detention;
· if required a solicitor or a doctor can be called to the police station to assist the vulnerable suspect.

The work is subject to the codes of practice established by PACE. The service operates 24/7 county-wide, serving four custody centres: Reigate, Staines, Guildford and Woking. Four teams of volunteers are on call in shifts throughout the year. SAAVS provides police custody staff with rotas and they contact the available volunteer direct. When a request is made, a volunteer will respond immediately and attend the custody suite. Each case involves meeting the police, examining the custody record and then meeting with the detainee. Various procedures may follow, including identification procedures, interviews, issues regarding bail and/or charge and the volunteer may make representations on the detainee’s behalf. On average, a call takes four hours, but on occasion one may extend over a matter of days.

Our role is to be concerned about any vulnerable suspect who is arrested and is for the time being in the care of Surrey Police whilst detained in the custody suite. We are there as independent lay facilitators who can help with communication, understanding the issue and ensuring fairness with the expectation that there will be a just outcome. This is not simple given the complexity of human behaviour and the vagaries of the law.

How the scheme has evolved

At first, the service was only intended to supplement the existing statutory services, but SAAVS is now the only provider of this service in Surrey. When the scheme started in 1994, it was an out-of-hours service only, with social services providing trained social workers during office hours. In 2000, the responsibility for young persons passed to the new Youth Justice Service and within a short time SAAVS was asked to take on a 24 hour response. This total service has been supplied by SAAVS since 2000. In fact, a manager of the Emergency Duty Team has said that there are no longer any social workers in the county who have experience of appropriate adult work.

The organisation

The service is operated by the Guildford Diocese Department for Social responsibility in conjunction with a well supported steering group with membership from the DSR, Surrey Police, the Duty Solicitor Team, Surrey Social Services and Surrey Youth Offending Team as well as the Scheme Manager and elected Volunteer representatives.

As well as the organisations represented on the steering group, SAAVS provides reports to Surrey Youth Justice and the Adult Mental Health Service. We have been inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary/Police.


The County Council provided initial funding to establish the scheme, together with office space and team management. After a couple of years this responsibility passed to DSR.

SAAVS is now funded by an annual grant from Surrey County Council with some support in kind from Surrey Police. This includes training, use of offices and some provision of hospitality. Church buildings are also used for a range of meetings and training events.

Funding is provided at 6 month intervals. I would expect at least 6 months notice of any intention to discontinue. This is not expected to happen. However, although funding has been adequate for most of the last 16 years, SAAVS has had no increase in funding levels for the last 5 years and this year we are running a deficit for the first time. There is no prospect of any increase in funding and this will present a management challenge.


Most volunteers were found through the offices of the church. Volunteers commit to be available at times that are convenient to them and complement the twenty four hour roster. The duty system is web-based and dedicated to each custody suite allowing police and SAAVS management to access and amend the information at any time. Being ‘on duty’ means being readily available, but not necessarily sitting at home awaiting calls. New volunteers receive the induction manual and a copy of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act plus training sessions on:

· the role of the Appropriate Adult;
· codes of practice and background legislation;
· police interview techniques;
· procedures at the police station;
· the work of the Duty Solicitor;
· the client group.

In addition, they make a visit to a custody suite and two shadow calls in order to become familiar with the environment and procedure.

There are quarterly meetings as a forum for discussion, updating, training and networking and there is a quarterly newsletter.

Volunteers are entitled to claim travel, telephone and meal expenses as appropriate. They are covered by Personal Accident Insurance.
SAAVS provided a service for 1,100 calls last year at an average time of 4 hours per call. Calculated on the basis of the minimum wage, this amounts to a contribution of about £26,400 per year. However, first, the ‘rate for the job’ would actually be much higher. Secondly, the service stands ready to respond at immediate notice and this requires approximately 80 volunteers to be on duty across the time line to cover the four different custody suites. The organisation, management, training and recruitment necessary to provide 365 days continuous cover is, therefore, significant.


Over the lifetime of the scheme so far, SAAVS has dealt with over 19,000 calls. The aim is for volunteers to be able to get to the custody centre within 30 minutes and this has been achieved in relation to over 95% of calls.

External recognition has come through a Queen’s Award for Voluntary service as well as a Surrey County Council Criminal Justice Award.

Success factors

Being able to provide a unique service which operates 24 hours, is county wide and supports both young people and vulnerable adults relies entirely on the extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment of our first class volunteers.


The difficulties involved in providing the service are:

· finding high quality volunteers who are willing to devote quite a lot of time to an unknown requirement with regard to when a call will be made.
· providing an adequate degree of training and then giving each volunteer some practical experience before going live on the scheme.
· providing every volunteer with a process of recruitment, vetting and assessment and to maintain this over time with a tiny amount of administrative support.

Challenges and opportunities

The challenge is to provide more with less when there was no fat in the system. There is also a challenge in finding sufficient committed people with enough time to make their involvement viable especially as there has been an almost total loss of people taking early retirement and they have previously provided the bulk of our volunteers.

Chris Drew