Tonbridge bookseller Chris Barmby has been rewarded for his voluntary work looking after 1,700 young people in police custody. He talks to Andy Tong

JUST REWARDS Chris Barmby with his citation from the palace PHOTO: Craig Matthews


CHRIS BARMBY, a 71-year-old antiquarian bookseller, has been awarded an MBE for ‘services to policing and the community in Tonbridge’.

Mr Barmby worked as an appropriate adult on behalf of the Young Lives Foundation [YLF] in Tonbridge police station’s custody unit from 2003 to 2015.

As an unpaid volunteer, he took part in more than 1,700 police interviews of juveniles and those who were vulnerable because of mental health issues.

He received his medal at Buckingham Palace on November 21, with his wife Angela and daughters Lee and Vanessa.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Mr Barmby. “My family was in the front row about eight feet away so they could hear what was going on.

“Prince William gave me the award. It was really surprising because the citation does not mention appropriate adults but he was fully aware of my role.It was an honour to be there, and a wonderful experience.”

Unlike the prince, most people have no idea about the work of volunteers like Mr Barmby.  “We are the best-kept secret,” he said.

All juveniles and vulnerable adults who have been arrested must have an appropriate adult with them while the police read them their rights, carry out identification, conduct interviews and issue charges.

If no member of the family is present, a volunteer fills the role.

‘You can’t talk down to them. A lot of adults have an attitude that you should be punished.
You’re not there to judge, but to see if they are being treated fairly’

Often parents and guardians are unable to attend because of other commitments, or they may be too closely involved with the circumstances of the arrest.

Mr Barmby said: “What is important for everyone who has a member of their family arrested is that there is someone with them who is independent of the police, looking after them, supporting them and protecting their interests, so that they are not just chucked in a cell and ignored.”

He liked to be proactive in offering that support: “I always had a policy that I would go down to the cell with the detention officer and shake the young person’s hand and tell them I’m not working with the police or part of the system.

“Very rarely, there were some who were very difficult to communicate with,” he admitted. “But usually they are fine when they are away from their friends.

“They don’t plan to do silly things, but when they are out with their mates they might do. Some get caught, some don’t. They’re not necessarily bad, they’re just unlucky.”

Mr Barmby is believed to have attended more custody interviews in a single police station than any other appropriate adult.

Chris Bath, Chief Executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network, reckons he is the first appropriate adult to receive an honour of any type in the UK.

And yet, as Mr Barmby pointed out, no one in the town knows what he did – even though it’s such a crucial element of the criminal justice system.

“You are working on behalf of the community, but they don’t know about you,” he said. “The only people who know of this important role are the police, solicitors and the detainees.”

Many of the young men and women he helped through those years remember what he did for them, and they come up to him in the street to say hello and thank him and tell him their news.

“I saw one just the other day at Haysden Lake, and he told me: ‘Mr Barmby, I’ve got a job now’.”

His relationship with the police is ‘extremely good’, and he has received three Kent Police Certificates of Merit and was named volunteer of the year by the Kent Police Authority in 2012.

In 2008, he was recognised by the Kent Criminal Justice Board for his ‘outstanding contribution to working with offenders’, and as part of the YLF team he also received The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

FORCE FOR GOOD Mr Barmby and his MBE with Kent Police Chief Inspector Dave Pate

Tonbridge Police Station, which covers West Kent from Snodland to Edenbridge to Hawkhurst, would be able to call on him at any time of day apart from after 10pm – ‘the young people have to be allowed their sleep by law’.

Mr Barmby would ‘have to drop everything and go down to the station… They used to joke that I almost lived there’.

The day after he received his award, Mr Barmby met Kent Police District Commander Chief Inspector Dave Pate and Young Lives Foundation Chief Executive Stephen Gray.

Chief Inspector Pate said: “Chris Barmby has provided a tremendous contribution over many years, not only to Kent Police, but to countless young people and his local community. Appropriate adults perform a vital role.

“The likes of Mr Barmby sacrifice their own free time to attend police stations at all hours, and they remain a key component in ensuring the smooth running of the custody function.”

The most important quality to possess as an appropriate adult is an ability to understand a person’s feelings and share them, Mr Barmby said. “You have to be non-judgemental, but empathy is the most important thing.”

He added: “You can’t talk down to them. A lot of adults have an attitude that they should be punished. You’re not there to judge, but to see if they are being treated fairly.”

Mr Barmby spent ten years in the Navy and served on the Independent Monitoring Board for two prisons in the Isle of Sheppey Cluster before taking up his voluntary role.

He continues to sell books on antiques and collectables – he used to have a shop, C & A J Barmby, on Lavender Hill in Tonbridge.

And he has already had one encounter with royalty, as a yachtsman on the one of the two escort boats which accompanied HMS Britannia and the royal barge on the Thames for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

If you would like to volunteer for the Young Lives Foundation, call 01622 693459 or email:


Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act [PACE] all juveniles and vulnerable adults arrested by the police must have an appropriate adult with them while their three rights are read to them.

These are the right to inform a parent or guardian, to have a solicitor free of charge and to be protected by the code of practice.

Then come identification procedures such as fingerprinting, searches and intimate searches.

Next, the appropriate adult would go into consultation with the detainees, with no police or lawyers present, and talk about their background and the reasons for the arrest, explain the police caution and that they don’t have say anything and go through the procedure in the interview room and afterwards.

“If they made any admissions in the consultation, I wouldn’t pass them on unless I was concerned about their mental health,” said Mr Barmby, who went on to explain his role in the interview room.

“The appropriate adult is there to observe whether the interview is taking place properly and fairly and to facilitate communication.

“If I think there is something the youngster has not understood, I would jump in. I don’t have any legal training, that’s someone else’s job. You are taking the role of the parent – but one who knows what’s happening.”

Then the tapes are sealed and the appropriate adult waits with the detainee to hear about the charges and understand the bail conditions.