In the Media

Trainee trapped with suspect

PUBLISHED May 29, 1991

It was the first time Shabnim Gill, a young trainee solicitor in Kent, had been sent to a police station to interview a suspect and she will never forget the experience. Her recitation of those events a year-and-a-half later highlights the growing problem of security for lawyers conducting police station interviews. At the time, Ms Gill, who finishes her trainee contract with the firm JW Saunders & Co in Erith in September 1992, was 23-years-old.

She was originally eager to go to the police station.

'I am quite a confident young girl,' she says in retrospect, 'and I was not bothered about meeting people with previous convictions.' But, from the moment Ms Gill walked into the police station, she felt ill at ease largely, she says, because of the 'condescending and off-hand' attitude of the police on duty.

She was told that no interview room was available and, as they wanted to interview the suspect themselves as quickly as possible, she had no alternative but to conduct her own discussion with the man in the locked cells.

She was instructed to bang on the cell door when she had finished the interview and a police officer would let her out. 'The cell was horrible', recalls Ms Gill, 'dark, small and smelling of urine.

The suspect had several previous convictions and after a few minutes talking to him I remember thinking that this bloke is not a very nice person.' The interview lasted about 20 minutes during which Ms Gill became increasingly uneasy, although she acknowledges that the suspect at no time threatened her.

After concluding the interview, Ms Gill says she banged repeatedly on the door but there was no response.

She banged and shouted almost consistently for ten minutes before an officer turned up. 'I remember feeling foolish because the client kept laughing.

If he had been a first time offender, I might not have been so worried but, by the time was I finally let out, I was so shaken that I didn't bother to complain -- I just wanted to get out as quickly as possible.'