Autistic Teenager Wins £28,000 Payout From Met Police After ‘Brutal Restraint’

As reported in the National Press on the 15th February 2013

The Metropolitan Police have been ordered to pay £28,250 damages to a severely autistic teenager who was aggressively restrained by Metropolitan Police Officers after they jumped into a swimming pool and then forcibly restrained him.

The Met Police appealed against the £28,250 awarded to ZH, who sued after he was put in handcuffs and leg restraints by police officers for jumping into a swimming pool and then put into a police van under restraint. However, the Court of Appeal rejected the appeal to overturn the award.

The boy, known as ZH, successfully sued the force for trespass to the person, assault and battery, and false imprisonment after he was lifted out of Acton Baths, west London, in 2008 by police officers and forcibly held down before police secured two sets of handcuffs and leg restraints on him.

He was then taken, still soaking wet, to a police van and detained,

ZH, who also has epilepsy and is now 20, sued the police commissioner through his father, GH, who said his son had changed from a “lovable little kid into an upset child” who did not want to bathe, shower or go into water after the incident.

Nothing Could Justify the Manner in Which The Police Restrained The Boy

But the Metropolitan police appealed against the damages, awarded in March last year, claiming that it would set a dangerous precedent for policing and make officers “wary and defensive” when attending emergencies which involved individuals who were disabled or mentally ill.

Lord Dyson, sitting with two other judges, dismissed the appeal, and in his judgment he said: “nothing could justify the manner in which (the police) restrained ZH”.

He rejected the submission that the decision to find the Met liable and award damages interfered with the operational discretion of the police, or made practical policing impossible.

Operational Discretion is not Sacrosanct – A Landmark Decision

The judge declared: “Operational discretion is not sacrosanct. It cannot be invoked by the police in order to give them immunity from liability for everything that they do.”

ZH’s solicitor Tony Murphy, of Bhatt Murphy, described it as a “landmark” decision.

The case arose after ZH, then aged 16 and who has autism and epilepsy, had been on a “familiarisation visit” to a public swimming baths in West London with his special school, when he broke away from the group and went to stand by the pool staring into the water.

After 30 minutes the manager of the premises called the police.

Police Failed to Seek Advice

The officers attending the scene failed to seek advice on how to handle the situation from the boy’s carers, and inadvertently caused him to jump into the pool by touching him.

The judgment said he was not in danger of drowing as the water came up to his chest.  He was enjoying himself, splashing the water and making excited noises.

But police officers pulled him out and restrained him, with five officers all applying force to his body.

The Carers Asked The Police Not To Restrain Him

At one point the boy’s carers asked the police not to restrain him in the way they were doing as he was autistic and epileptic.

The boy was then put in two pairs of handcuffs and leg restraints. The judgment said: “It was only when two pairs of handcuffs and the leg restraints were applied that the application of force ceased. The swimming instructor, who was watching nearby, said that during the course of the restraint ZH lost control of his bowels.”

The judgment said the boy suffered “consequential psychological trauma as a result of this experience and an exacerbation of his epileptic seizures … The use of considerable restraint would have been particularly distressing for him.”

In the judgment Lord Dyson expressed “some sympathy” for the police, saying they were “intent on securing the best interests of everyone, not least ZH”. But he said they had behaved as if they were faced with an emergency when there was none.

“Had they consulted the carers, the likelihood is that ZH would not have jumped into the pool in the first place,” he said.

The police should also have consulted them before lifting ZH out of the pool.

“Had they done that, it is likely, with their help, the need to restrain him would have been avoided.”

“Finally and most seriously of all, nothing could justify the manner in which they restrained ZH.”

Lord Dyson agreed with Sir Robert that what was called for when officers first arrived on the scene was for one of them to take charge and inform themselves of the situation.

Over-Hasty and Ill-Informed

In his summary, Sir Robert said this did not happen. The officers’ responses were “over-hasty and ill-informed”.

After ZH had gone into the pool, matters escalated to the point where “a wholly inappropriate restraint of an epileptic boy took place”.

Sir Robert concluded the officers did not consult properly with the carer who was present when the officers arrived, even if the carer was not as proactive as he might have been in informing them of what was happening.

Special educational needs (SEN) campaigners are now calling for an urgent overhaul of police training, after the Court of Appeal ruled that officers breached the human rights of a young autistic boy when they restrained him.

Police Need Better Training in SEN and Autism

Amanda Batten, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said the case showed the police need better training in SEN and autism.

“Autism training is not routinely provided as part of police training in the UK despite the fact that the condition affects around one in 100 people,” she said.

“Autism awareness and strategies should be standard in police training to ensure that policemen and women understand the needs of this section of society and can act appropriately.”

Her call was echoed by Sean Stockdale, spokesman for the National Association for Special Educational Needs (Nasen). “Children with special needs and or disabilities have lives that don’t just begin and end at the school gates so services need to adapt to their needs,” he said.

“Those professionals resistant to change would do well to remember that if they get their provision right for our most vulnerable groups they are more likely to get it right for everyone.”

Wendy Hewitt, deputy director of legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the police officers were acting in what they thought to be the best interests of the boy, but warned that they made “serious errors” causing him “great distress and anguish”.

“The police deal with many vulnerable people and must make arrangements to ensure that they make a well-informed decision on how and when to restrain them, to avoid breaching their human rights obligations,” she said.

The judge awarded damages of £28,250 to the boy, including compensation for exacerbation of his epilepsy and for psychiatric damage.

“Operational discretion is not sacrosanct. It cannot be invoked by the police in order to give them impunity from liability for everything that they do,” said Lord Dyson.
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