On 21 March 2022 Charlie Avent spent the night at Melksham custody to raise money for the Care of Police Survivors charity. At time of writing (25 March) Charlie has raised around £700.
Charlie emailed Wiltshire Police in 2021:
“I’m passionate about teaching officers and staff about autism and challenges that people like me have so that your team on the front line can do your great work. After all, the police have helped me on numerous occasions and I want to do a bit of a challenge to give something back. I want to do a fundraising challenge by spending the night in a police station cell just like if I had been really arrested.
“Please may I have your help to make this dream a reality. I realise it’s a very strange request but my horse, Auntie, and I are trying to change the way people look at autism and other difficulties.”
The journey to realising Charlie’s wish was not straightforward, due to Covid, repairs at the custody unit and extraneous demands on the police. Charlie also had some personal obstacles to overcome too such as anxiety, mild epilepsy and autism.
A thorough risk assessment was conducted and our Insurance and Litigation team needed to be persuaded. Against all of that, Charlie remained hopeful and the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Team were won over and looked into whether it was possible.
Initially we looked at doing this at an old custody unit that was no longer in use at Marlborough Police Station but this was found to be unsuitable as it was mothballed and did not have CCTV, let along heating or running water.
Whilst there had been concerns about using a live custody environment, eventually it was realised that Melksham custody unit was exactly the place that it should be held. The staff are trained to look after people with all manner of vulnerabilities, it has fully functioning CCTV and even a new autism-friendly cell has been painted. Once the insurance was found to be willing to support it and Health & Safety endorsed the risk assessment, Charlie’s dream began to come together.
The team comprised Sergeant Tom Ellerby, who led the event from the ED&I Team; Steve Thorpe from Insurance (who has epilepsy himself and was able to advise on it); Dave Grainger from the Control Room, who has autism himself and is Deputy Chair of the Wiltshire Police Disability Support Association; and finally Custody Sergeant Sarah Clarke. Sarah has an autistic son and has spoken to her colleagues about managing neurodiversity.
Charlie arrived at Devizes Police HQ in the company of an appropriate adult for the evening, Tracey Jordan. Tracey has come to know Charlie through their shared love of horses.
Charlie was given a tour of the HQ and even got to meet a member of the Firearms Team. Charlie was allowed to see an unmarked Volvo XC-90, armed response vehicle and even got to hold a shotgun, assault rifle, and baton-gun. From HQ, Charlie was taken in a marked Police vehicle to Melksham custody – and was 'arrested' on suspicion of stealing the horse Black Beauty from Frankie Detorri!
At the custody desk, Charlie immediately ingratiated himself with the team by giving them Jaffa cakes and was then booked in under the supervision of Sergeant Sarah Clarke before being taken to a specially painted autism-friendly cell.
Charlie sampled the custody cuisine, having a lasagne but was too excited to sleep. Tom, Dave and Steve kept an eye on Charlie on the camera in the cell and the following morning, Charlie was given the good news that Black Beauty had been found and all charges were dropped!
Charlie thanked the Police and praised the custody team for their hard work and professionalism.
Sergeant Tom Ellerby of the Equality Diversity and Inclusion team said: “Spending the night in a Police station’s custody unit would not be many peoples' idea of a good time. It can be loud, there can be violent people there, and it is not especially comfortable.
“A custody unit is really not the environment for having a challenge, given that people are often taken there for serious matters and we need to respect the space. We are also accountable for peoples’ safety and must carry the risk, so I think this is definitely a one-off. However, the chance to do something unique to promote the fact that people with autism can do anything was a great opportunity.
“Charlie showed a lot of courage in doing this and has amazingly raised money for a wonderful cause. Having a team around on the night that understood neurodiversity was really valuable. We are all incredibly proud of Charlie.”
To find out more about the charity Charlie has chosen to support, visit the Care of Police Survivors website: COPS