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Snettisham man retires after doing 15 years behind bars helping in the cells

Spending 15 years behind bars isn’t usually cause for celebration but this week, a Norfolk volunteer who has done just that has been recognised by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

Eric Langford, from Snettisham, is one of Norfolk’s longest serving Independent Custody Visitors (ICV), having joined the scheme in 2004.

Now 15 years later, Eric has taken the decision to retire from the role.

ICV’s are little known to those outside of the police or those who work in the police investigation centres (PICs) where those detained are held.

ICV’s are volunteers who visit the county’s custody facilities unannounced or in pairs to check on the treatment and welfare of people being held.

This is in a bid to make sure that they are being accorded their rights and avoid any legal issues in the processing of their cases.

ICV’s stand between the police and the public as a kind of mediator and safeguarding figure.

To mark Eric’s retirement, which falls during National Volunteers Week, PCC Lorne Green met with him at the PIC at Saddlebow to recognise his long service and offer his personal thanks.

Eric, left, at the PIC with Lorne Green, centre, and volunteer Michele Rayson
Eric, left, at the PIC with Lorne Green, centre, and volunteer Michele Rayson

Mr Green said: “National Volunteers Week and more importantly, occasions like this which recognise dedication and commitment to volunteering by people like Eric – serve as a reminder that this country couldn’t run without volunteers.

“Norfolk, in particular, has some excellent ones.

“Our custody visitors are the eyes and the ears of the public – visiting detainees, reporting on what they see and offering public reassurance that the police are treating people with fairness and respect. The efforts of all the volunteers who take on this role are not only very much appreciated, but have also helped win the scheme a national accolade from the Independent Custody Visiting Association.”

This year, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk has won a prestigious national award for the quality of its independent custody visiting scheme.

Mr Langford said: “It’s a role that very few are aware of but which is so important in ensuring that people detained by the police, many of whom are vulnerable, are being treated fairly and in accordance with their rights.

“Every week of every year, ICV volunteers take it in turns to visit custody, showing up at a facility without warning, at any time to talk with those in custody.

“For the time detainees are held in custody, they lose their freedom and the privileges that come with it, but they deserve an appropriate level of care and welfare.

“ICV’s exist to help ensure they get that.

“My experience has been that the police working in Norfolk’s custody facilities welcome our scrutiny and our observations, not least for the role they play in helping officers and staff continue to learn and improve what they do. I’ve very much enjoyed my time as an ICV; it has given me the unique opportunity to learn about the inner workings of custody and policing, and the laws which form the framework for what they do.

“I’ve also enjoyed working alongside the other volunteers taking on the role.”

All ICVs are highly trained and many volunteers have been involved with the role for a number of years, Mr Langford said.

“I’d definitely encourage those looking for a volunteering role with a difference to consider joining one of the custody visiting panels.”

Mr Green launched a recruitment campaign at the start of the year for custody visitors.

More volunteers are currently needed to visit police custody facilities in Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Wymondham.

He said: “We had an excellent response and have welcomed a number of new recruits to our custody visiting panels – but we could still do with a few more.

“It’s a truly unique and interesting volunteering role.

“I hope his story will inspire anyone who can offer a few hours a month to give something back to society to get in touch.”

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