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custody suite
Posted: 14 August 2012 08:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Stuart Hazell, who is charged with the murder of Tia Sharp, has been sent for trial at the Old Bailey.
The 37-year-old appeared at Camberwell Green magistrates court on Monday via video link from a custody suite at Sutton police station.

This was written by a Guardian hack, not a police spokesperson. At first I took custody suite to mean his cell but it becomes clear it means a spartan room with a table, chair and video equipment. The British police are notoriously PC nowadays especially after charges of institutionalised racism among PCs (police constables) particularly but why not just say “room in Sutton police station” and shame on the Guardian for using custody suite.
Does suite evoke fancy hotels, etc to others? If so, how many stars?

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Posted: 14 August 2012 09:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well, wikipedia has an article on Custody Suite but without any citations, so impossible to tell how old the usage is. But it doesn’t look like Political Correctness but rather an older term for the quarters where prisoners were/are held for bail (as we say on our side of the pond).

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Posted: 14 August 2012 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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shame on the Guardian for using custody suite.

Why on earth would you say something like that without doing even the most minimal research?  A single click on Google or Wikipedia would have gotten you the article Oeco found, and you would have learned something.

Edit: the OED defines “suite” in this sense simply as “A number of rooms forming a set used together by a person, a family or company of persons.” Nothing about luxury there.

[ Edited: 14 August 2012 10:54 AM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 14 August 2012 01:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Google ngram viewer suggests that it was first noted in AmE in 1989 and in BrE in 1992.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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At the risk of stating the obvious, whether “suite” evokes a sense of luxury depends on the context in which it is used. The custody in “custody suite” rather takes the sweetness out of suite.  Had the article said something along the lines of the police allowing the suspect to participate via video link from a suite in town, i would think the author was either being too cute by half or inexcusably vague (depending on what, if anything, I was able to infer from the rest of the article as to where the suite was located).  If the author had said that the suspect participated via video link from a suite in the Luxor (a luxury hotel), I would think that that was a decidedly bizarre thing for the local authorities to allow.  But “custody suite” doesn’t strike me as particularly euphemistic.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 04:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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"the British police are notoriously PC”

boomtish

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Posted: 14 August 2012 10:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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When I first saw the phrase, I thought it might simply be a misprint, or a spelling error, for a divorce case involving children (with journalists, one’s never automatically sure). But apart from that—doesn’t the term “suite” necessarily imply much more than the single room which the OP qualifies as “Spartan”? The OED and Wikipedia certainly appear to think so.

(edited to improve sense)

[ Edited: 14 August 2012 10:40 PM by lionello ]
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Posted: 15 August 2012 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I don’t have any knowledge of the term, beyond what’s linked to in this thread, but it seems to me that custody suite is dead on accurate and the perfect term to use. It refers to the area of the police station where prisoners are processed and quartered. It is more than one room, and some, but not all, of those rooms are cells (booking rooms, offices for the guards, interrogation rooms with video facilities, cells, etc). By using “custody suite” not only is the Guardian being accurate, but they are specifically calling out the fact that he is a prisoner. “Room in the police station” is vague and undefined; it could mean anything. “Cell” would be incorrect; the room is not a cell. In other words, the custody suite is the high-security area of a police station.

You also see office suite used in much the same fashion in a different context. An office suite is not one person’s office, but contains several individual offices, a reception area, conference rooms, kitchenette, etc.

[ Edited: 15 August 2012 04:01 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 15 August 2012 04:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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As the Wikipedia entry makes clear, a custody suite is not the same thing as a cell, or even a cell block, although of course it contains cells. (There are no custody suites in prisons, for example.) It’s a self-contained unit which must contain not only cells but – among other things - a custody desk; interview rooms with recording facilities; washing and toilet facilities specially fitted with traps so that solid objects can’t be flushed down; areas for medical examination and strip-searches; food storage and preparation areas. None of these facilities can be shared with other parts of the building – e.g. prisoners’ meals may not simply be brought from the police canteen, and officers may not use the prisoners’ toilet facilities.

The Grauniad was absolutely correct to use the term, since it’s highly unlikely that Hazell appeared on that video link from his cell; the obvious procedure would be to take him to one of the dedicated interview rooms in the suite, which would as a matter of course have all the necessary equipment.

Dave isn’t quite correct to say that by using the term the Grauniad was ‘specifically calling out the fact that he is a prisoner’. It’s quite possible for a person to be in a custody suite without ever being in a cell, and indeed even without being arrested. When anyone is taken to a police station to be questioned (as Hazell had been some days earlier), whether they are actually arrested or simply ‘invited’ to come, the questioning takes place in a designated interview room in the custody suite. (This is officially described as ‘helping police with their enquiries’: an ostensibly neutral description which in fact conveys to all British ears the strong implication that they are suspected of having committed the crime in question, or at the very least of knowing more about it than an honest person should.)

The term custody suite, and indeed the thing, is a product of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984. Before that, arrested people could be held in whatever cells the station happened to have, many of which were barely modernised from the original Victorian or Georgian lock-up, and a few of which were genuinely medieval. Questioning took place in whatever room was available, usually with no facilities for audio taping, often a long way from the cell. On the trip from cell to interview room and back, anything could happen – surreptitious disposal of evidence, encounters between prisoners, duffings-up in empty corridors. Lavatories and washbasins had no traps in them, which meant that items could be washed away (or could be presumed to have been washed away), or there might be no lavatories and the sanitary facilities might be no more than a covered bucket. Food might variously be supplied from the police canteen; sent out for from a local takeaway; brought in by the duty sergeant’s wife; or whatever.

P.A.C.E. laid down very specific standards for the manner and environment in which arrested persons were to be held and questioned, which required the construction of specially-designed, self-contained custody suites in which all this could happen. It created the post of the custody officer, who is legally responsible for verifying that this has been done properly in all respects. If the custody officer cannot do so, a prosecution can be thrown out. Quite minor faults in the facilities or layout of the custody suite itself can be enough for this to happen.

The Wiki entry omits to mention that Her Majesty’s [Revenue and] Customs, who have as many, indeed more, powers of arrest and detention as the police, also have custody suites of their own which are governed by the same Act. If Customs arrest you, they hold you themselves; they don’t hand you over to the police.

A dozen or so years ago the defence lawyers in an important drug smuggling trial challenged the prosecution on the grounds that the custody officer’s sightlines in the suite where the defendant had been held on his arrest were inadequate. My husband, who was a customs officer back then, was promptly dispatched to measure the suite, check the sight lines and take photographs, and was able to show that all was in fact as it should be. But the heads of Customs were alarmed enough by the challenge that they ordered a similar survey of all their custody suites. For the next couple of months I barely saw my other half as he criss-crossed our fair islands, checking custody suites at ports and airports from Dover to Falmouth to Aberdeen via Belfast: from the palatial accommodation at London Custom House, where the corridors are carpeted, the interview rooms are mahogany-panelled, and the day’s menu choices are presented to prisoners in a leatherette cover (‘Were we taking the piss? You bet we were’ says my husband), to one- and two-cell suites at fishing ports and regional airports. In one of the latter, he discovered, the cell walls were constructed only of plasterboard – fortunately none of the people detained there had noticed this and realised that they only needed to kick a hole in them quietly enough to be able to walk out. (I can’t tell you where that one was, just in case Customs still haven’t got round to upgrading the facilities yet.)

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Posted: 15 August 2012 04:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Fascinating, and fully explanatory, SL. Thanks.

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Posted: 15 August 2012 12:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Most informative.

And while you’re in an explaining mood, I have seen references to the Grauniad before, without ever twigging to the fact that it was an anagrammic reference to the Guardian.  I presume there’s some joke behind this, but not being familiar with the paper, I don’t get it.  Is the Guardian notorious for typos?

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Posted: 15 August 2012 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Yes, it is, and has been ever since I can remember. In consequence the satirical current affairs magazine Private Eye took to referring to it as The Grauniad decades ago, and even people who like and admire the paper use the name affectionately.

My personal all-time favourite Grauniad typo came in a description of the sorry condition of some Kurdish refugees (this was so long ago I can’t even remember which oppressive regime they had been obliged to flee from) being housed in ‘makeshit villages’.

[ Edited: 16 August 2012 11:28 AM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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Posted: 16 August 2012 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Thanks to everyone for their helpful and informative replies except LH who seems to have a bee in his bonnet (I have fond memories of his research into Thai consonant sounds regarding their name for guinea pig - gatsby). Suite has a wider application than my auto-jerk response - film/video editing suites now spring to mind though I’d still go for ‘room/rooms’ unless I were an auteur.

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Posted: 16 August 2012 05:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Here in Oz maternity hospitals, we often don’t have labour wards: we now offer birthing suites. Suite will now no doubt turn up everywhere we look.

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Posted: 17 August 2012 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Another Grauniad typo I recall from Private Eye was a “rocket of a shit” in a soccer match. This reminded of something I once read about a Soviet newspaper typo-ing Stalin’s name such that Stalin (man of steel) was rendered as “man of shit”. The story goes hacks were afeard for their lives but he let it go after allowing protracted bricking. It could be apocryphal though genuine maven and Russian scholar LH will be able to say if such a typo is possible - useful guy to have around.

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Posted: 17 August 2012 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I have been told that in Hungarian only a single diacritical mark differentiates ”The Emperor of Austria” from ”The Shit of Austria”, and that radical Hungarian newspapers under Habsburg rule frequently printed the latter, secure in the knowledge that the Imperial censors were all Austrians whose knowledge of the language wasn’t good enough to pick up on such a tiny “typo”. I have no idea if someone was pulling my leg about that, though. Are there any Hungarian speakers in the house?

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