Short Term Holding Cell and Short Term Holding Facilities

Specialist Policing Consultancy Ltd have designed a new holding cell for 21st century. The 'fat pack' or 'pop up' cell design meets Home Office and police design standards and is protected by patent.

A Safer Detention Unit (SDU) is a short term holding unit and it is designed for installation is existing locations where a detention room is required at low cost but to a high specification. In a retail scenario the detainee can be placed in the cell allowing for security staff to return to the shop floor. The store detective can safely complete their notes and enquiries with the detainee safe and secure in the SDU. Stores routinely wait up to 4 hours for police to arrive. The SDU is equipped with CCTV, lighting, ventilation (or air conditioning) providing a modern and safe detention environment. The use of the SDU could reduce the risk to staff and many of the 35,000 assaults on staff that occur each year. Many of these assaults take place in the store premises long after the initial detention. The Safer Detention Unit is marketed by The Athelney Group Ltd


Safer Detention Unit          

A Short Term Holding Facility (STHF) is where more than one cell are used. This can be installed in a retail complex or a local police station. The units are delivered in 8 sections and installed on site, they can then be secured together in a row. The come independently equipped with internal CCTV, ventilation, lighting, intercom (if required) and a cushioned seat.

In a police environment a group of 5 short term holding cells can process approximately 5,000 prisoners per year in a local unit operating from 1000 to 2200 hours. Such a unit can process minor crime prisoners, non violent crime and drinking and driving prisoners. Each would take between an hour and 90 minutes to process. This would save a minimum of 4.5 hours per detaineee. When prisoners are taken to central custody suites it takes a minimum of 6 hours plus travelling time to process them.

Data in 2015 showed that 80% of suspects that appear before Magistrates Courts end up with a punishment of a fine of less. Why take them in in the first place?

Identify them and take appropriate resolution options, caution, conditional caution, fixed panalty or use Street Bail to make them go to a police station under their own steam at a time more convenient to the officer.

In the retail complex environment it will allow police officers to process detainees on site reducing costs, time away from the patrol site and to improve efficiency for all partners affected by crime in the retail environment.



There is a critical shortage in custody capacity across the UK police forces. Building new facilities are expensive long term projects and in the current financial climate unlikely. This is at a time when both the public and the community desire that more offenders be brought to justice.

Traditional police cells individually cost in the region of £350,000 to construct. They include a bed and a toilet facility.

However, 80% of prisoners can be dealt with in a short space of time. In fact often cells are in use by minor non-violent offenders when they are needed for violent and serious offenders. On occasions such as this the violent or serious offender has to be taken to another site impacting on the investigation quality and timescales. This is similar to the ‘bed blocking’ scenario suffered by hospitals across the country.

In addition, persons answering bail for administrative purposes are rarely at the station beyond a few hours. Current procedures dictate that once in custody that they are housed in a cell. This is despite the fact that they would not need the full facilities of a cell. In a police station environment, a number of SDUs could be installed to cater for non-violent, minor crime, drink and drive and bail to return prisoners. This would allow the full size cells to be used for the purpose that they were designed for, holding people for longer periods of time to support the investigation of serious crimes. This is a far more cost effective use of resources.


In trials the processing of minor crime prisoners at a STHF returned police officers to patrol quickly and improved patrolling capability by between 60 and 70%. The development of local prisoner processing centres returns police to patrol faster, reduced the number of staff involved in the process by fewer prisoners being driven miles to custody suites, reduces transport and escort costs and wear and tear on vehicles.

Many other government agencies also detain individuals suspected of committing crime, these include police, immigration officers and security staff at airports and ports, all would benefit from the installation of Safer Detention Units.

Retail Crime

Shoplifters are often taken to an office in the store where a myriad of potential weapons and threats exist. Would it not be better to install a SDU and reduce the opportunity for a suspect to be aggressive or use violence against staff. for a suspect who turns violent can use on staff. The waiting times for the arrival of police are often in hours in addition to the need for store staff to conduct their investigations and write their report 

             Which is safer for the staff and the suspect?            Shoplifter restrained    

More than 35,000 retail staff report suffering verbal or physical abuse each year. Many assaults occur following the detention of crime suspects where the store makes a decision to call the police. The 'fight or flight' syndrome kicks in for the offender and they try to make their escape or seek retribution in response to a decision to call police. In addition detainees can get increasingly frustrated during the long wait for police to arrive. In many areas police do not see retail crime as a priority and urgent calls take precidence. In some areas police regulalry take over an hour to attend, during this time detainees can get increasingly agitated and pose a threat to store staff. This is negated if the detainee is confined to a short term holding cell.

Retailers should take appropriate steps to protect their staff and the SDU will prevent assaults on staff and allow for a smooth handover to the authorities..

Usdaw[1] research ‘Voices from the frontline’ revealed that 47% of union activists reported physical attacks or assaults on staff in the last 12 months and  that threats of physical violence were a problem in 72% of stores.

In areas where there is a greater fear of violence and intimidation, retailers report a greater turnover of staff and higher incidence of sickness or absence. Unfortunately many employees now appear to accept this abuse as ‘part of the job’. This places additional cost to the retail industry.

The overall annual cost of retail crime has remained constant at £1.1 billion[2]

The SDU can be installed in the security office to allow prisoners to be detained safely while processing and decision making takes place or pending the arrival of the police. This is safer for both the staff and the suspect..

 Football Stadiums and Events

The SDU can be installed into football stadiums to manage ejectments and prisoners safely. The majority of incidents at football grounds constitute a breach of the ground rules. This results in an individual being ejected or escorted from the stands and taken to an area where a quick investigation or identity check process takes place. With the use of a number of SDUs installed near to the police room or ejectment area, the person can be safely detained while the process takes place. The SDU can also be used by the police to hold prisoners arrested for minor crimes (ticket touts, threatening behaviour, minor assault, forged tickets, etc) allowing for the evidence to be assessed and a prosecution decision being taken. Many police arrests result in the issue of penalty notices or cautions. These can be implemented on site negating the need to take prisoners to the police station under escort and at additional cost. The outcome is that police officers remain on site to provide a service to the stadium and are available to deal with serious incidents. The prisoner remaining safe and sound in their cell.


The SDU can be quickly installed on site with only a few tools. While it can be a permanent fixture it has also been designed to be built, used and then de constructed. This would fit military requirements in forward operating bases where suspects can be detained pending initial screening interrogation and assessment. Their detention would be human and more importantly recorded to counter allegations of mistreatment while in detention. Once assessment is made those requiring continued detention can be moved back to the main operations base, while others are released.

As and when the forward operations base be moved the SDUs can be quickly dismantled for transport and reassembled at another site.

In addition, the SDU can be installed into containers that could be driven to the site. We have designed a container solution that will provide 20 Safer Detention Units, a booking in/processing unit and interview rooms housed in 4 containers. In essence this will be two containers housing 10 SDUs each, a container with interview rooms built in and the final container to house the management and staff office.

[1] Shop workers union

[2] BRC RETAIL CRIME SURVEY 2011 - note also ‘It is clear that under-reporting remains a significant problem. Too often in the past retail crime has been perceived as ‘victimless' and therefore attracted a lower priority than many other offences. When the under-reporting of offences is taken into account the actual figure is likely to be far higher – in the region of 750,000 to 1 million offences or even as high as 2 million if grossed up to account for the whole industry.