The TV series Appropriate Adult may have been richly rewarded at the recent BAFTA ceremony . . . but not everyone is a fan.
The controversial series told the story of Janet Leach (played by Emily Watson) who became the “appropriate adult” assigned to the infamous and gruesome case of serial killer Fred West in 1994.
But to the staff and volunteers at the charity Catch 22 in Northamptonshire, the programme gave completely the wrong impression of what an appropriate adult actually does.
Katrina Tite, one of the appropriate adults working for Catch 22, said: I have to say that it isn’t like that any more, It is totally different to how you see it on screen.
“In the programme the character was allowed to wander about police stations and was more involved than she should have been and was trying to do her own investigation work.”
Catch 22’s Lesley Griffin added: “It is nothing like that now.
“On the TV show the police were questioning her to get information for them.”
So in today’s world, what is the role of an “appropriate adult?”
Working with youngsters between the ages of 10 and 16, Catch 22’s Appropriate Adult service operates across the county to provide a responsible person to support young people who have been arrested and detained and to make sure procedures are carried out in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).
Their role is to be impartial in the police interview room, court house, or wherever they need to be, to ensure that justice is done and a young person’s needs are looked after.
They are called in if a suitable parent is not around to support their child or if – as in some cases – the parent is the victim of the alleged crime.
Lesley said: “We are there to make sure we support that young person and make sure the police do their cautions and everything is done correctly, otherwise everything can be thrown out.
“It is to support and assess the young people when they are in custody if no one else is appropriate to go. Our role is to go and be a referee. You are not there in a personal role, you have to make sure that everything is done in accordance with the law.
Currently there are only five appropriate adults – two staff members and three volunteers – to be there for young, arrested people across the whole county.
Before April this year, appropriate adults were provided by Social Services to attend out-of-hours incidents, while Catch 22 took care of the day time. Now the entire service has been passed into the charity’s hands and it desperately needs more volunteers across Northamptonshire to help provide for the rising number of cases.
Between 2010 and 2011, 85 cases were dealt with out of hours alone and, according to daytime call-out figures for 2011-2012, 224 calls for support were received.
WARTS AND ALL
Although the popularity of the Appropriate Adult programme did help boost interest in the service, few people saw their initial inquiries through to the point of actually offering their voluntary services.
Lesley and Katrina find it important that, following the dramatised version seen on TV, prospective volunteers are given a full idea of what the reality is.
Lesley said: “We give them the warts-and-all version. You can be in a little room where there might be seven people at one time. You often have students coming in, and observers, as sometimes a solicitor might have an observer . . . and they are little rooms.
Katrina said: “Some of them might have been sleeping rough, some might be covered in blood and some in sick. One had maggots on his feet as he had been living rough.
“We might have to travel to Corby or to Wellingborough. We are desperate for people in Corby.” The whole process is about making sure justice is done.
Lesley said: “You make sure the interview is conducted fairly and there isn’t intimidation. We ask people if they have learning diffculties too.”
She continued: “A lot of young people have ADHD and need drugs. You can’t send someone into an interview unless they have got the right medication.”
Katrina said: “We make sure they are fit for interview. We also make sure they have legal advice. A lot of young people will say they don’t want a solicitor.”
Lesley added: “This can be because they think they can get out quicker or worry that their parents might have to pay for a solicitor.”
Volunteers are not allowed to ask young people to disclose any details about the nature of their cases.
GETTING TO KNOW THEM
Katrina said: “We have the right to speak to them privately and to tell them our role and that we are only there to act as a supervisor. We also ask them if they have had anything to eat, if they have medication problems or if they are on any drugs. Some young people can be very stubborn and not want to speak to you, but that is very rare.”
An inevitable part of being an appropriate adult is getting to know and becoming familiar with repeat offenders. One challenge can be to remain unattached through what can be a traumatic process.
Katrina said: “There are some people we have known from an early age, their life revolves around it.
“With the older ones it is so hard not to become a little attached to them because of their circumstances. We know if they might have problems in their family, they might talk to you about that. Some might say ‘my mum doesn’t care about me and that is why I’m here’. It is hard to distance yourself from them.”
Being an appropriate adult takes an individual who can cope with the grittier side of life. I had one person who was screaming and swearing, who wouldn’t get up and wouldn’t talk to us,” said Katrina. “He was in one very bad mood. You have to be prepared for the language coming at you.”
Catch 22 are looking for people who are mobile and have a mature outlook and flexible time on their hands to act as volunteer appropriate adults for young people held in custody at police stations throughout Northamptonshire. Full training is given.
Lesley said: “The service will be volunteer-led so we need volunteers with flexibility to work seven days a week from 9am to 11pm on a rota system.”
Anyone interested can ring 07540673818 or 07795447205.