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Police may be given powers to question child suspects alone

The police will be able to question children without their parents or other relatives being present under a shakeup proposed by the Home Office yesterday.

Ministers also announced their intention to push ahead with plans for “shopping centre jails” – short-term holding centres in busy shopping malls and town centres – to detain low-level offenders for up to four hours so they can be fingerprinted and processed without being taken to a police station.

The government’s response to the review of police powers under Pace, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, published yesterday also confirmed the expected overhaul in the rules on stop and search, post-charge questioning and bail.

Ministers also want to change the rules on identity parades so that a court can draw an “adverse inference” from someone’s refusal to take part and give officers extra powers to enter the premises of a suspect.

But a proposal for an extension of the national DNA database by allowing samples to be taken from people arrested for minor offences such as littering, which featured in an earlier consultation paper, has been “parked” pending the outcome of an important human rights case in the autumn.

The proposals would have to be given parliamentary approval through secondary legislation before coming into force. No timetable has been set for their implementation.

The changes to the rules on interviews of child suspects would mean that the police would no longer have to wait for a parent, guardian or other relative to turn up at the police station. In future the presence of an “appropriate adult”, a role often fulfilled by a trained lay visitor at the police station, would be sufficient.

The Home Office said parents would continue to be invited to attend.

“Supermarket jails” have been piloted in Oxford Street in London, with a holding room at Selfridges store being used to process shoplifters and other low-level offenders. The aim is to enable the police officer to get back on the beat as soon as possible.

Changes are also proposed in the rules surrounding extensions of detention in custody from 24 to 36 hours. Currently, they have to be approved by an officer of the rank of superintendent or above. In future the signature of a police inspector would be sufficient and reviews could be carried out by telephone or video link.

The changes on stop and search confirm previous announcements about replacing time-consuming forms with handheld computer technology that will issue a receipt to the person stopped.

Tony McNulty, minister for the police, said that changes to Pace codes were designed to reduce police bureaucracy while ensuring they had the powers needed to carry out frontline duties.

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