PRISONERS due to appear in court in Edinburgh are routinely being transported from as far away as Dundee, Glasgow, Greenock, Arbroath and Saltcoats because of a lack of suitable cell accommodation in the Capital, it was claimed today.
Lawyers and union leaders have voiced concern about the regular transfers of remand prisoners, which can mean a round trip of up to 160 miles for each court appearance and could lead to a multi-million-pound bill for the taxpayer.
The problem has arisen because of an order to end the practice of holding more than one prisoner to a cell.
It is understood the 42 cells in the custody suite at Edinburgh’s St Leonard’s police station were designed for multiple occupancy.
The union Unison estimated that up to 60 detainees have to be transferred from overwhelmed custody centres in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to cells in Dundee, Glasgow, Greenock, Arbroath and Saltcoats and then brought back.
Edinburgh solicitor Nigel Beaumont, who has worked at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for over 30 years, said: “In the running of the courts, it turns what is already a shambles into a more risible shambles.
“It has meant courts are sitting until 6pm or 7pm as they wait for people to come in from distant police stations.”
Unison official Stephen Diamond said: “There is an inherent risk in routinely transferring prisoners, even low risk ones.
“Road accidents are a major risk, the attempted rescue of a prisoner a minor one.
“We have concerns about police staff dealing with increased numbers of prisoners. The cost and time element of using police to transfer already arrested prisoners is a concern.
“The police and fire reform ethos is based around best value and in our views this is not best value.”
The use of far-flung police stations to hold prisoners has also led to fears that people due to appear in court are not getting proper legal representation because legal aid does not cover the costs for solicitors to travel the country to see clients.
Police Scotland confirmed “multi-celling” had been abolished because it was considered “unacceptable from a health and safety point of view” and said this had coincided with a rise in the number of people being held in custody because of “robust” investigations into domestic abuse incidents and more pro-active policing.
Superintendent Fiona McPherson, who is in charge of custody operations for Police Scotland, said every prisoner transfer was “scrutinised and risk assessed” by senior managers.
She said: “By conducting the transfers across our estate, it alleviates capacity issues in particularly busy areas.
“The transfers between police custody suites are carried out by police staff. However, they are carried out at times of shift overlap when staff levels permit. This means individuals can be safely and professionally transferred when there is little impact to other police functions.”