WHETHER guilty or innocent, when police make an arrest, everyone is treated the same. But what is it actually like to spend those 24 hours in police custody?

And what if you haven’t done anything wrong? Here Susan Sales tells crime reporter HELEN BARNETT just what it was like for her, behind the cell door.

“WHEN the police told me what I was supposed to have done, I thought: ‘Are you joking?’”

It was 5am when Susan Sales, 45, was woken by three police officers knocking on her door in Glastonbury Gardens, Westcliff, to arrest her for a crime she hadn’t committed.

Half asleep and in a daze, she opened the door in her pyjamas to hear the accusation she had threatened to kill her niece.

“Then they said I had to come with them,” she recalls.

It was April 22 last year, the Tuesday after the Easter weekend, when police were contacted by Lauren Pankhurst, 22, of Bircham Road, Southend. She claimed her aunt, Mrs Sales, had called her mobile and began threatening her, calling her a “dead woman walking”.

Mrs Sales knew she was innocent, but had to endure agonising hours in a police cell, surrounded by criminals.

After being bundled in the back of a police car and locked in a cell, the reality started to hit home.

“I waswearing a hoodie with ties on, but that was the wrong thing as I could apparently harmmyself with it,” she says.

“So they took it off me and gave me a red custody jumper.

Who knows who had worn this before me.

“I just sat there thinking, ‘this is horrible’. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I thought it was a bad dream.”

Unknown hours and minutes passed by and still no one had interviewed Mrs Sales.

Breakfast and lunch came and went, but all she saw was the four walls of her 6ft by 6ft custody cell, bare but for a toilet and bench.

“I was hoping my two daughters were OK. They just didn’t know when they were going to see me again,” she says.

In the afternoon, Mrs Sales was eventually interviewed.

She recalls: “As soon as he told me what I was supposed to have said, I said ‘do you know how ridiculous that sounds?’


“I asked if they had tracked the number it was supposed to have come from and they said no. I don’t think they knew what to say to me.

“I presumed she had shown them her phone, but they had no evidence, no witnesses, nothing.

“The interview didn’t go on very long.”

A while later, after fingerprints were taken, Mrs Sales was allowed home.

Her husband told her he was sorry he couldn’t stop them taking her away. Her children were upset.

“There’s a fear in them now because they know the police can come and arrest you and take you away when you haven’t done anything wrong,” Mrs Sales, says.

When police decided not to take the case further, Mrs Sales was adamant she did not want her niece to try again, and pressured police to press charges against her for perverting the course of justice.

Pankhurst protested her innocence when questioned in September, and continued to do so until she appeared at Basildon Crown Court on January 5, when she admitted the charge against her.

She was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months, put on a curfew for three months and ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.

Mrs Sales said the effects of her time in custody live on, and she has had to be prescribed pills to sleep at night.

“It’s not just a day in a cell. Some members of my family think, because I was arrested, I am guilty,” she says.

“I am happy with Lauren’s sentence, but, sadly, I don’t know if we will ever build bridges. It’s a horrible experience I will never forget.”