Foreign crime suspects walking free on bail in Birmingham due to interpreter crisis
FOREIGN suspects are being allowed to walk free from police custody before questioning because of a shortage of interpreters.
The shambles has been blamed on a new interpreter service that was supposed to save West Midlands Police £750,000 every year.
But the new programme has forced officers to release some arrested foreign suspects on bail because they cannot get interpreters for police station interviews.
Cops have also been forced to pay old interpreter rates for more serious cases and have had to ship in qualified linguists from as far afield as Leeds and Manchester. In one case, it took West Midlands Police two weeks to source an interpreter for someone who volunteered to make a statement in an Asian language.
The force signed up to a Ministry of Justice-backed agency of interpreters in November in a bid to slash their annual bill of nearly £2 million.
The firm, Applied Language Solutions, says it has boosted resources in the last two weeks and “implemented significant improvements” to deal with problems.
But police chiefs have admitted that, in a small number of cases, foreign suspects arrested for low-level crimes such as shoplifting have had to be freed on bail before questioning. And the force has had to dip into its own pockets to pay for cover when the new scheme failed to find interpreters for more serious cases.
A source said a number of former police interpreters have declined to come to the aid of cops, in protest at how they feel they were treated.
“There has been some difficulties,” the source said.
“The company are recruiting some more people but it has not been what was hoped.”
Where the force had to spend money to bring in translator cover, the new company has offered them a credit for future services.
One Birmingham interpreter, who did not sign up with ALS because of the huge drop in pay and conditions, has revealed how she was called up at 7.45am on the very first day of the new contract as possible cover.
Marie Adamova, a 46 year-old Czech interpreter, refused the offer. She said: “There has been a boycott as these problems are also happening at the Ministry of Justice.
“The system is not working with ALS and we need to work together to tidy up this mess.
“If there is a need to save money then they should have spoken to the interpreters and they still can.
“There is a shortage for all languages, but there is a particular shortage for Lithuanian, Latvian, Romanian and Polish.”
The force spent £1,898,000 last year on interpreters to translate more than 100 different languages at police stations.
West Midlands Police switched to ALS in the face of forcewide budget cuts of £126 million. A police spokesman said in all cases where the suspect had been released on police bail they had returned to the station to answer questions at a later date.
A spokeswoman for ALS said: “We continue to work closely with the MoJ framework agreement to monitor the service and investigate any complaints.
“As a result we have implemented a number of significant improvements and increased our resources considerably in the last two weeks, in order to improve performance.
‘‘Assigning qualified and experienced linguists to assignments and insisting on continuous professional development, while reducing operational inefficiencies, remains the focus of our service.”