Sun, 09 Nov 2014

Policing of autistic suspects

Tape

Should police officers behave differently with autistic suspects? Two recent commentaries support the changes I suggested in my written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee.

Researchers found that conventional police interview techniques are not effective for people with autism:

Police find interviewing and interacting with witnesses and suspects with autism a real challenge, a study has revealed - highlighting that the ways officers have been taught to interview are at odds with what is needed in these situations. Existing interview techniques tend to focus on open questions, only later narrowing down to closed questions, but research shows that people with autism may need focused questions from the outset.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded research studied what does, and does not, work when police interview people with autism. The researchers - Dr Katie Maras, University of Bath, and Dr Laura Crane, City University London - are calling for better training of police and criminal justice professionals as, at present in the UK, these groups currently have no standard compulsory training about autism. […]

My experience of the police interviewing process, as described in my evidence, matches this research:

10. As I was innocent and did not know any better at the time, I made the mistake to refuse to call a solicitor. During the police interview, one question particularly bothered me. The interviewing officer after asking me questions about my laptop such as 'has it got anything on there about public underground?' and 'has it got anything on there about plans for any terrorism act?', asked 'has it got anything on there that might be construed as causing a public nuisance?'. The correct answer would have been 'yes' as I have a word processor, an email client, etc that could all be useful to a terrorist and most likely can be construed to be of use for anything including causing a public nuisance. However, I also realised that answering the positive would not be helpful to me and challenged the question when the investigating officer just wanted answers.

An obvious way forward to make police encounters less damaging to autistics would be to improve training. Inspector Michael Brown, who is on secondment to the College of Policing as Mental Health Coordinator, recommends on his Mental Health Cop blog to have autism awareness training for police officers:

[…] I've argued before that I see the point of specific autism awareness training for police officers because we know that where officers deal with incidents involving someone with autism there could be considerations that wouldn't necessarily apply to other situations, if they can be accommodated. I'm not sure if that could be said of all of the above conditions, however. Would it matter to the policing of an emergency mental health incident whether someone who appeared to be in distress was psychotic because of schizophrenia or because of bipolar or because of Addison's disease? Probably not. […]

These two commentaries support the recommendations I made to the Home Affairs Committee:

12. An essential recommendation would be for all front-line police officers to receive some training about the autism spectrum. This training ideally would involve those on the autism spectrum. I understand that a few police officers have had sessions with the Asperger London Area Group (ALAG). This training should be made more generally available.

13. At the very least, front-line officers should read the ACPO-endorsed Autism: a guide for criminal justice professionals publication of the National Autistic Society.

14. With such training it is hoped that police officers realise that a behaviour different from that of a neurotypical is just different rather than suspicious; consider hyper- and hypo-sensitivities that the public they interact with may have; and use clearer interviewing questions.

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Tue, 28 Oct 2014

Profile on the Restart Project's blog

The Restart Project is publishing on its blog a series of profiles of regular restarters. I was featured in the second profile. Here's a copy of the post:

Restarter Profile: Meet David

David at a Restart Party

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am known as either David or Panda. I moved to London from Paris twenty-one years ago. I have studied computer science and criminology, and worked as a software developer, a technologist and a journalist. I am autistic and have been described as ‘calm, almost too calm’.

When did you start repairing electronics and electricals?

Before the web had been invented. A lot of my early repairs were telecoms related: RS232 cables, modems and phones, and computers as well.

Why do you attend Restart Parties?

To empower others to regain control of their devices. For more than thirty years I’ve been demystifying new technologies and software development, initially, and how to reclaim our civil liberties, later. The collaborative repairing going on at Restart Parties are occasions to demystify repair and to empower participants to fix their electronic and electrical devices. It is for this transformative process, when people realise that many repairs are accessible to them, that I am involved with the Restart Project.

What is your favourite kind of repair?

The variety is interesting, but what is most gratifying is when someone arrives hoping for a free fix and leaves having fixed their device mostly on their own. It is the process of discovery, when they realise that they are already knowledgeable: that if they have changed a fuse they likely understand the need for electric continuity; that if they have ever touched a lit lightbulb they likely realise that electric devices get hot. Fixing their device is a small step from that knowledge: when a device stops working, first steps are to check that everything is still connected, that electricity flows, and that there’s no dust or crumbs blocking any fan so the heat is not trapped inside. The next realisation is that some simple tips go a long way: how not to end up with a pile of screws, use a pill box or an egg carton to store them so it’s easy to find which screws are used at which step when time comes to reassemble things. The skills needed for such repairs are a lot of common sense, some limited experience (learnt in the process), good research skills and access to a few tools.

What do you do when you are not Restarting?

Learn, research, occasionally write. Check on the welfare of the detained persons by making unannounced visits to the custody suite of police stations. Write (too many) Freedom of Information requests. Walk.

What frustrates you (in life)?

Injustice. Noise. Surveillance. Crowds. Deaths in custody. Cars. Waste.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Restart Parties, Qi Gong, police custody visits, mornings of mindfulness, conferences. Though mornings are difficult and best avoided.

What’s the first thing – one material thing – that you could not live without? (besides oxygen, food, water, and shelter and medical care)

In this weather, a hat.

Share something cool with us [preferably a link]

The Horse is Technology, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Bootnote: Read an earlier post about my experience of becoming a restarter.

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Wed, 09 Jul 2014

IPCC case file eventually destroyed. Possibly. Probably.

IPCC disclosed case fileAfter my unlawful arrest in July 2005, I complained to the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) and then appealed the outcome of the supervised investigation. After deciding not to uphold my appeal, the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) closed my case file seven years ago. On 2014-06-19, the seventh anniversary of its final correspondence about my appeal, the IPCC was due to delete the electronic content of my case file and destroy its paper content.

When reminding the IPCC of this deadline, I requested to witness the occasion. This was refused:

Unfortunately, it is not possible for you to witness either the destruction of the hard copy file or deletion of the electronic file but we will send you confirmation of their destruction once this has been done.

At a time when the IPCC is trying to regain the trust of the public it is disappointing that such requests cannot be accommodated. However on 2014-06-20, IPCC's Records & Archives Manager confirmed it had all been done:

I am pleased to confirm that the documents held in the electronic file of your case were deleted yesterday morning. I confirm that four paper files were also destroyed at the same time.

I attach a spreadsheet detailing the electronic documents that were deleted. I am unable to list the contents of the paper files as we do not maintain an index of each paper document destroyed, only the fact that the file has been destroyed. Included in the spreadsheet is reference to the destruction of the 4 paper files.

The attached spreadsheet listed the creation date, record number, title and container title (the case reference number) of 32 electronic documents that had just been deleted and the box numbers of the four paper files that had been destroyed.

I found it difficult to verify whether the spreadsheet listed all the documents I knew the IPCC held. Some of the dates did not match that of the documents I had obtained with a subject access request and most of the documents I had did not have titles. I was concerned that the IPCC might still be retaining some documents and requested a review of the deletion process. The IPCC's Records & Archives Manager explained on 2014-06-27:

In 2006 the use of a Electronic Document Records Management System (EDRMS) was in its infancy at the IPCC. At this time the majority of information was filed in paper files. Your case was allocated a case number 2006/007520 and documents for your case, whether in electronic or hard copy format, were filed against this number. The whereabouts of paper files were also recorded onto the EDRMS.

Electronic documents were either scanned or saved directly to the case file and dated with the date that they were added to the system, not the date of the document. As an example of this, the document cited in your email "Final Report Minute - Supervised Investigation' from the Casework Manager to the Commissioner dated 23/11/2006," is shown on line 18 in the spreadsheet as FR minute and dated 4 December 2006.

There were four paper files allocated to your case file number, these were files of some substance I am unable to say what documents were contained in the files as they have now been destroyed.

Following receipt of your email, I have carried out a search on the EDRMS which reveals that there are no electronic or paper files still in existence for this case.

Although all documentation is filed to the appropriate case file, in order to allay your concern that some documents have been inadvertently retained, I have spoken to the casework manager who had conduct of your case and to the commission secretariat to ensure that they have no documents relating to your case in their possession. In both cases they confirmed that they do not have any documents.

I am therefore able to confirm that all documents relating to your case have been destroyed in accordance with our retention policy.

Even after this apparently thorough review, I had some remaining concerns as to whether the searches may have missed documents with the case file reference mistyped or misspellings of my name (such typos were present in some of the documents). This had been considered:

I did carry out some searches using variances of both your name and the case number. These were done both on my initial search and the further search carried out last week.

It would have been easier to allow me to witness the deletions and destructions as initially requested.

The Metropolitan Police Service should delete their litigation and investigation files on 2015-09-02, six years after their last correspondence: their apology.

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Tue, 24 Jun 2014

Further supplementary evidence to the Home Affairs Committee (Taser use forms)

I have two ongoing complaints with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) about how the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) are both responding to some of my Freedom of Information requests. There's little visibility as to when further disclosures, prompted by the ICO's caseworkers, are made by SLaM and the MPS. Soon after SLaM sent me an over-redacted 105-page report into incidents at the River House mental health secure unit, I received four Taser use forms from the Metropolitan Police Service. (Both complaints are ongoing as the SLaM report is clearly over-redacted and the MPS have not yet addressed the non-location of its incident management log.)

These new disclosures are directly related to the second section (paragraphs 15 to 23) of my Evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into policing and mental health submitted last month and are relevant to this inquiry. I sent to the Home Affairs Committee a supplementary evidence about SLaM's disclosure of its 105-page report earlier this month, and copied below is a further supplementary evidence (also published on the Parliament's website as PMH0044) about the MPS eventual disclosure of the four Taser use forms:

  1. This second supplementary submission provides further information about the use of Tasers by and tactics of the the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) when they were deployed on the night of 2012-10-01 at the River House mental secure unit, part of the Bethlem Royal Hospital run by the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust.
  2. As mentioned in paragraphs 17 of my evidence1 I have an ongoing complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the cover up of the MPS concerning incidents at the River House mental secure unit. As part of their response to this complaint, the MPS have disclosed four Taser use forms2. The further information contained in these forms should be directly relevant to this inquiry.
  3. The forms confirm that four Tasers were ‘Drawn’ and reveal that 12 ‘TASER officers [were] present’.
  4. The text of the four forms is very close but with some differences. So much wording is identical that it is obvious the four officers conferred before filling in these forms, which may well be the standard procedure. However, some differences are significant.
  5. It appears that part of the intelligence that informed police decisions was faulty. One form’s ‘Information/Intelligence’ box includes: ‘Reports were also received that someone had been stabbed to death within the unit and that a further person had also been stabbed.’ while the three others state: ‘Reports were also received that someone had been stabbed within the unit’. Nowhere in the fully unredacted summary report3 is there any mention of a stabbing and the extensively redacted full report4 only includes one mention on p. 25: ‘One report by xxxx refers to “support to stabbing incident”. This is probably based on one of several hoax calls made by xxxxxxx.’ The police based its decision on how to intervene in a mental health ward in part on intelligence which was a hoax (not even considered worthy of mention in the summary independent investigation report), with one officer believing there had been two stabbings resulting in one death and three other officers believing there had been one stabbing and no consequent death, when there had been no stabbing at all.
  6. While the tactical options considered included ‘Negotiators’, ‘Prison training tactics’, ‘Taser’ and ‘Entry to save life and limb’, the one adopted was ‘Officers used prison training tactics and cleared the unit with the use of taser. Each of the bedrooms/rooms were cleared and all patients were eventually contained in the lounge area. The staff were removed from the secure room they were in and the aggressive ring leaders [also described as ‘main trouble makers’ in other forms] were removed from the group of patients into a separate secure location.’ The forms do not mention any consideration to the potential additional trauma to the vulnerable patients treated on this mental health ward when faced with ‘prison training tactics’ imposed by TSG officers, twelve of them equipped with Tasers and four of them having their Tasers drawn.
  7. At a meeting of Lambeth's Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee5, representatives from SLaM stated ‘The police had been called for support but the incident had been managed well by staff at SLaM and the police did not get involved in the incident’. The investigation report already contradicted this statement, but now we learn that SLaM was attempting to cover up ‘prison training tactics’ used by the police.
  8. In light of these Taser forms, it would be useful for this inquiry to look into what intelligence the police use when deployed to mental health settings, how they check this intelligence with medical staff, the suitability of the tactics considered and used, and whether there should be support for patients following a police deployment.
  9. Further to the recommendation in paragraph 22 of my original evidence to publicly publish a minimum amount of information to ensure some transparency about police deployment to mental health units, police forces should publish monthly figures of the use of Tasers (and other weapons) that also include:
    • (a) how many weapons were brought to mental health settings,
    • (b) how many and which type of weapons were used (and as already suggested, which type of use) in mental health settings, and specifically on mental health wards,
    • (c) overall number, age, ethnicity and whether patient/staff/other of those police tactics are used against.

[1] PMH0021 David Mery - written evidence (PDF): http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/policing-and-mental-health/written/9174.pdf

[2] MPS disclosure of the four Taser use forms: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/river_house_2012_10_01_critical#incoming-530359
Direct links to the four forms: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/193137/response/530359/attach/3/Redacted%20Taser%20Use%20MPS%2002.10.12%20287.12.doc.tif.pdf, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/193137/response/530359/attach/4/Redacted%20Taser%20Use%20MPS%2002.10.12%20291.12.doc.tif.pdf, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/193137/response/530359/attach/5/Redacted%20Taser%20Use%20MPS%2002.10.12%20292.12.doc.tif.pdf and https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/193137/response/530359/attach/6/Redacted%20Taser%20Use%20MPS%2002.10.12%20294.12.doc.tif.pdf

[3] An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding two separate but related incidents involving Norbury patients on Spring Ward on the night of 1st October 2012 (Final Report - Summary): https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/164330/response/496004/attach/3/RH%20Report%20Oct12%20unredacted.pdf

[4] An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding two separate but related incidents involving Norbury patients on Spring Ward on the night of 1st October 2012 (Final Report): http://www.slam.nhs.uk/media/255726/slam_rh_incident_underlying_detail_redacted_140528.pdf

[5] Minutes of meeting of Lambeth's Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee (Item 5), 2012-10-23: http://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=20256

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Tue, 17 Jun 2014

Supplementary evidence to the Home Affairs Committee (incidents at the River House mental health secure unit)

Last month I submitted some Evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into policing and mental health. On 2014-05-28, the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust sent a further response in relation to my complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office and I consequently sent the supplementary evidence, copied below, to the Home Affairs Committee (also published on the Parliament's website as PMH0043):

As mentioned in paragraphs 17 of my evidence[1] I have an ongoing complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the cover up of the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust concerning incidents at the River House mental secure unit. There has been some progress in this regard which should be of interest to the Home Affairs Committee.

As a response to this ongoing complaint, SLaM has now published a heavily redacted version of its full 105-page report (pdf) into these incidents. [In case this redacted report is updated or removed, a copy, as originally published, is available here (pdf).]

This report is distressing as it is still heavily redacted with snippets of great concern appearing without the original context. I have asked the Information Commissioner’s Office to check the redactions are valid as even without having access to the full document, many redactions are clearly excessive and not justified by the claimed exemptions (these exemptions can be read in SLaM's letter (pdf). [This letter is part of this Freedom of Information request.])

For instance, on p. 19 one interviewed staff is of the opinion that these incidents could have been avoided and that none of the 48 police officers that attended River House that night should have been deployed: ‘[…] it was possible to foresee what would happen, once a decision was taken to [redacted]. In the opinion of [redacted], the situation could have been pre-empted and the police should not have been called.’

However, only a few pages later on p. 23 there are both mentions of the seriousness of how the incident developed and the confusion between staff and the Trust about it: ‘Comment: several staff referred to incident 1 as a hostage situation, whereas according to the Trust Policy (Major Incident Protocol), it is defined as a riot.'

A clear example of the further poor attempt at a cover-up can be seen on p. 31. Most of the paragraphs describing the details of 'Incident 2' are redacted, however we already know from the 12-page summary report (link in footnote 11 in my evidence), and the repeated paragraph in the executive summary (p. 3), that 'In the second incident which occurred at approximately 0250, one patient challenged staff with regard to decisions which had been taken about the management of the four patients involved in the first incident. He accused them of discrimination, believing that there had been a racist motive and that staff had assisted the police to pursue this line of action. He threatened to kill staff and one of the white perpetrators, who he declared had been treated differently to the black perpetrators. This resulted in nursing staff losing control of the ward for a second time when they retreated to the nursing station.’ These allegations of discrimination must not be redacted.

Given that this report is from the largest mental health provider in the country, where two people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities have lost their lives while in the care of this provider at the hands of the Metropolitan Police services, it is particularly important that every member of the committee should be able to read a fully unredacted copy of this report. Considering the serious public safety implications, as well as public confidence concerns in policing and mental health, exemplified by such incidents, it would be helpful for this inquiry to get a full insight into both policing practice on the ground and patient experience at this mental health provider.


[1] PMH0021 David Mery - written evidence (PDF) [also on this blog at Evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into policing and mental health]

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Wed, 14 May 2014

Evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into policing and mental health

The Home Affairs Committee, whose remit 'is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Home Office and its associated public bodies' is running an inquiry into policing and mental health. The deadline for written evidence was a week ago and 34 submissions have been published online on the Parliament's website. The evidence I submitted (PMH0021) is also copied below:

  1. This submission consists of three unrelated sections:
    • The first part is about my experience as someone with Asperger’s syndrome of a police encounter at Southwark tube station on 2005-07-28 that resulted in an unlawful arrest.
    • The second one is about two critical incidents that occurred at the River House facility operated by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust on 2012-10-01. I eventually exposed that 48 Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers were deployed and four Tasers drawn.
    • The third one is about the use of Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 s136 in London and is the result of a research I did last year.
  1. I submit this written evidence as an individual having lived in London for over twenty years.[1]

A) Autistic behaviour considered suspicious and subsequent unlawful arrest

  1. On 2005-07-28 at 19:21, when trying to take the tube at Southwark tube station, Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers found my behaviour suspicious, stopped and searched me under s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and eventually arrested me for the offence of public nuisance.[2]
  2. In May 2013 I was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum - of the Asperger’s type, by a clinical neuropsychologist at Homerton Hospital.
  3. The reasons given by the police officers for finding my behaviour suspicious were that:
    • I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates, i.e., I was ‘avoiding them’ as I ‘appeared to be shielding [my]self from view’
    • two other men entered the station at about the same time as me
    • I was wearing a jacket ‘too warm for the season’
    • I was carrying a bulky rucksack
    • I kept my rucksack with me at all times
    • I looked at people coming on the platform
    • I played with my mobile phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.
  1. As can be seen from this list it is clear that my failure to interpret social cues appropriately, including avoiding eye contact with the police, which is typical autistic behaviour, triggered the stop and search and the wrongful arrest.
  2. While on the platform there were reminders to ‘keep your bags with you at all times’ and of course I interpreted these literally keeping my rucksack on my back at all times.
  3. I am hypersensitive to sound and I was made to wait for a while at the entrance of the station, before being led to the police van, while some station’s alarms were ringing. As my hands were handcuffed I could not block my ears.
  4. At the station entrance an officer removed the handcuffs and started giving me back what they had taken from my pockets. However, confusingly another officer said that was not the proper procedure and I was re-handcuffed and was told a senior officer would come to apologise and I should wait in the police van. First time the door re-opened when I was in the back of the van was not to apologise as I had just been told but instead to tell me I was arrested.
  5. As I was innocent and did not know any better at the time, I made the mistake to refuse to call a solicitor. During the police interview, one question particularly bothered me. The interviewing officer after asking me questions about my laptop such as ‘has it got anything on there about public underground?’ and ‘has it got anything on there about plans for any terrorism act?’, asked ‘has it got anything on there that might be construed as causing a public nuisance?’[3]. The correct answer would have been ‘yes’ as I have a word processor, an email client, etc that could all be useful to a terrorist and most likely can be construed to be of use for anything including causing a public nuisance. However, I also realised that answering the positive would not be helpful to me and challenged the question when the investigating officer just wanted answers.
  6. After four years of fighting, including an IPCC supervised investigation, an appeal and threats of civil actions, the MPS Borough Commander for Southwark ‘apologise[d] on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service for the circumstances that arose on 28 July 2005 including your unlawful arrest, detention and search of your home’[4].
  7. An essential recommendation would be for all front-line police officers to receive some training about the autism spectrum. This training ideally would involve those on the autism spectrum. I understand that a few police officers have had sessions with the Asperger London Area Group (ALAG)[5]. This training should be made more generally available.
  8. At the very least, front-line officers should read the ACPO-endorsed Autism: a guide for criminal justice professionals publication of the National Autistic Society[6].
  9. With such training it is hoped that police officers realise that a behaviour different from that of a neurotypical is just different rather than suspicious; consider hyper- and hypo-sensitivities that the public they interact with may have; and use clearer interviewing questions.

B) The River House incidents and its cover-up by the NHS and the MPS

  1. Two inter-related incidents involving service users happened on the night of 2012-10-01 at the River House mental secure unit, part of the Bethlem Royal Hospital run by the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust. Police were called to both incidents. These incidents happened two years after Olaseni Lewis died after being restrained by up to 11 policemen at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and only two months to the day after the Sean Rigg inquest verdict, in which SLaM’s failings were criticised to have ‘more than minimally contributed to the Sean Rigg’s death’[7].
  2. The extent of police involvement was covered up by SLaM and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). SLaM delayed publication of its investigation report and initially published a heavily redacted version before I forced it, with the assistance of the Information Commissioner’s Office, to publish the redactions as well. The MPS also delayed their response to my Freedom of Information requests and still claim that the ‘Incident Management Log [their final report] cannot be located’[8], i.e., was lost.
  3. Data obtained from a campaign of Freedom of Information requests to SLaM, the MPS, the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Monitor, as well as from ongoing complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office about breaches of the Freedom of Information Act in SLaM’s and the MPS’s responses, and from letters sent by the MPS to Baroness Jenny Jones has revealed the extent of this cover up[9]: 48 police officers were deployed including six officers from armed response units, two from dog units, 21 PC from the Territorial Support Group (TSG)[10] and the entire Bromley Borough night response team[11]. TSG officers entered the mental health ward and four drew their Tasers[12].
  4. It is unclear whether anyone was physically hurt in these incidents. SLaM stated on 2012-11-08 in its first response to my Freedom of Information requests that luckily this time ‘there were no injuries to patients or staff in this incident’[13]. It reiterated this position to its board of directors: ‘there were no reports of any injuries to staff or patients.’[14] However the investigation report states: ‘One patient sustained injury to his hand during the second incident. No physical injuries were sustained by staff.’[15] In any case, having TSG officers drawing their Tasers in a mental health ward can exacerbate or cause mental trauma to vulnerable individuals already suffering from mental health issues.
  5. To reassure Londoners that policing of vulnerable individuals with mental health issues is improving, the Metropolitan Police Service and the NHS Foundation Trusts will have to improve on their transparency as well as their performance.
  6. Commander Christine Jones, lead on mental health for both the Metropolitan Police Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is reassuring when saying at the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21 ‘I have stopped police responding to mental health institutions for the purposes of restraint unless there are very, very good reasons why. […] We have an escalation process in place at the moment for the Metropolitan Police Service which basically means that if a mental health institution calls on police, it goes into my mental health team to assess the circumstances before we respond. It is as simple as that. We have that level of commitment that we are all on call virtually 24 hours a day to make sure that if we have to respond we have the right people doing it and for the right reason.’[16] However this message has not managed to get through the organisation to the MPS press office which still stated on 2014-01-28 ‘The MPS does not have a specific policy in relation to the deployment of firearms officers to mental health units.’[17] Again, we have confusion.[18]
  7. A policy about all deployment of police to mental health units, preferably based on the words of Commander Christine Jones, should be published.
  8. When a deployment of police officers to a mental health unit does happen, some information should be published soon after the incident such as:
    • (a) how many officers from which unit were deployed,
    • (b) how many officers from which units entered mental health wards,
    • (c) details of any restraints of patients by police officers,
    • (d) details of any use of weapons by police officers; in particular if Tasers are used, details of the type of use (fired, angled drive stun, drive stun, red dot, arcing, aimed and/or drawn[19]) should be included,
    • (e) details of injuries caused to patients, staff or any other person.
  1. Any investigation report into incidents that required police intervention should also be published in full in a timely manner.

C) The use of section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 in London

  1. Attempting to find out how Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 s136 is used in London has proved very difficult as there was ‘no central recording system in place that recorded the number of individuals detained under s136 of the Mental Health Act (MHA) by MPS officers for the period [I requested of] January 2012 to December 2012.’ and ‘Form 434’s would need to be searched for and the relevant information retrieved from each of the 32 London boroughs.’[20] (which is not possible to ask in a Freedom of Information request).
  2. The difficulty of obtaining any data on s136 in London is surprising when one finds out that the situation in London is better than in the rest of the country as the MPS has been very good in avoiding to bring individuals detained under s136 to custody suites. Only 59 persons were detained in police custody in the calendar year 2012 whose ‘Arrest Offence [in NSPIS] was set to equal “Mental Health Act” or “S.136 Mental Health Act”’[21] (when the number of s136 detentions for that year was approximately 2,665[22]).
  3. It is however interesting to note that not all boroughs are equally represented: Southwark (12), Lambeth (10), Croydon (7), Newham (5), and Lewisham (4) and Westminster Central (4) top the list of boroughs that use custody suites occasionally to detain individuals under s136.[23] With the exception of Newham, the boroughs were the SLaM NHS Foundation Trust operates are the ones with the highest number of individuals detained under s136 that were brought to a police custody suite and not into the NHS, in 2012.
  4. The operation of Section 136 in London[24] suggests that the situation has improved in Newham: ‘If a Section 136 patient arrives at one of these place of safety on an occasion when it is already occupied by a previous patient then arrangements are made to transfer one of the patient’s to a ward. Whilst this is not practical in every case, the evidence clearly shows that performance in 5 out of 6 [including Newham] of these places of safety is considerably better than average.’ I have been in touch with SLaM but have not managed to get any information to explain why numbers were higher in SLaM’s boroughs and/or any remedial step taken.
  5. Some limited information is available from many sources[25]. Hopefully this frustrating situation has recently improved as Commander Christine Jones expressed at the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21 that ‘I absolutely reflect that unhappiness. When you have disparate systems, disparate information technology (IT) and technology that does not talk to itself, you are immediately into a difficult arena. Until I took over the lead for mental health back in September last year, we had no way of knowing by pressing a button how many people across London we had encountered with vulnerability leading to mental health issues. We had no way of looking up how many Section 136 interventions we had or Section 135. We changed that in January this year and in April that rolled out across the Metropolitan Police Service, so we now use the Merlin system to highlight vulnerable adults coming to notice. [...] Good metrics now under Section 136. We have good metrics now.’[26]
  6. It would be useful for more statistics to be published on a regular basis. As an example, for London the following data would be helpful:
    • (a) the number of individuals detained under s136 of the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 by MPS officers,
    • (b) the list of NHS s136 suites, per borough and the breakdown, per s136 suite, of the number of days the s136 has been opened that month,
    • (c) the breakdown by type of the initial place of safety those individuals in (a) where brought to (i.e., s136 suite, emergency department, custody suite, or other),
    • (d) the breakdown by type of vehicle (per s136 suite, A&E department and custody suites) those individuals in (a) were conveyed to a place of safety,
    • (e) the breakdown by gender (per s136 suite, A&E department and custody suites) of those individuals in (a),
    • (f) the breakdown by age range (per s136 suite, A&E department and custody suites) of those individuals in (a),
    • (g) the breakdown by ethnicity (per s136 suite, A&E department and custody suites) of those individuals in (a),
    • (h) the breakdown of whether those individuals in (a) were considered to be suffering from the effects of drink or drugs (per s136 suite, A&E department and custody suites).
    • (i) the breakdown of whether of those individuals in (a) were restrained (per s136 suite, A&E department and custody suites),
    • (j) the number of individuals detained under s136 of the MHA and admitted to hospital in each borough, following an MHA assessment.

[1] CV: http://gizmonaut.net/cv/

[2] The detailed description of my arrest and subsequent fight to get off the National DNA Database and other police databases, and receive an apology is at http://gizmonaut.net/bits/suspect.html

[3] Police interview tape; Walworth Police Station; 2005-07-29 03:12:50-03:56:30

[4] Letter from Chief Superintendent Wayne Chance, Metropolitan Police Service Borough Commander for Southwark dated 2009-09-02: http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/2009/09/mps_apologises.html

[5] Asperger London Area Group (ALAG): http://alag.org.uk [Updated to new name and URL of ALAG]

[6] Autism: a guide for criminal justice professionals: http://www.autism.org.uk/working-with/criminal-justice/autism-a-guide-for-criminal-justice-professionals.aspx

[7] Sean Rigg inquest verdict: http://www.gardencourtchambers.co.uk/imageUpload/File/Inquisition-for-Mr-Rigg.pdf

[8] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/river_house_2012_10_01_critical#incoming-505753

[9] NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward: http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/2014/03/SLaM_attempted_cover-up_over_massive_police_deployment.html

[10] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/river_house_2012_10_01_incident#incoming-465743

[11] An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding two separate but related incidents involving Norbury patients on Spring Ward on the night of 1st October 2012: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/164330/response/496004/attach/3/RH%20Report%20Oct12%20unredacted.pdf

[12] http://gizmonaut.net/foia/2014-03-20_Jenny-Jones-Armed_police_called_to_mental_health_wards_AC_Rowley_response.pdf

[13] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/136039/response/329620/attach/2/FOI%20response%20DMery%20121108.pdf

[14] Minutes of the fifty ninth meeting of the board of directors of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation trust held on 30th october 2012: http://www.slam.nhs.uk/media/177219/novboard_12.pdf

[15] An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding two separate but related incidents involving Norbury patients on Spring Ward on the night of 1st October 2012: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/164330/response/496004/attach/3/RH%20Report%20Oct12%20unredacted.pdf

[16] Transcript of London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21: https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngov/mgChooseMDocPack.aspx?ID=4993&SID=9700

[17] MPS press lines: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/river_house_2012_10_01_critical#incoming-505753

[18] More on this confusion in Deployments of armed police officers at London’s mental health units: http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/2014/04/mps_at_mhus.html

[19] Police use of taser statistics, England and Wales, 2012 to 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/police-use-of-taser-statistics-england-and-wales-2012-to-2013/police-use-of-taser-statistics-england-and-wales-2012-to-2013

[20] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_section_136#incoming-368981

[21] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/161877/response/396631/attach/3/43126%20FOI%20Final%20v2.xls.pdf

[22] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_section_136#incoming-390373

[23] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/161877/response/405673/attach/4/43126%20FOI%20Final%20v3.xls

[24] The operation of Section 136 in London, An Action Plan to improve was published in March 2013 by the Mental Health Partnership Board for London. This document does not appear to have been made public; a copy was obtained from David Mellish, Chair of the Mental Health Partnership Board for London.

[25] MPS: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/joint_mental_health_protocols
MPS: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_section_136
MPS: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/dps_in_custody_hac-policing-mh_following_s136
Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136
Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_2
East London NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_3
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_4
West London Mental Health NHS Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_5
South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_6
North East London NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_7
Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_8
Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mha_s136_9

[26] Transcript of London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21: https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngov/mgChooseMDocPack.aspx?ID=4993&SID=9700

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Mon, 21 Apr 2014

Deployments of armed police officers at London's mental health units

Patients treated in mental health units are vulnerable individuals and deploying police officers to handle them is not the kind of care that patients and their families are expecting. It has on occasions resulted in deaths, often of young black men, such as that of Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis. So what is the Metropolitan Police Service's policy for such deployment of their officers?

In their press lines, dated 2014-01-28, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) describe their lack of policy about armed police deployments at mental health units:

Q2: Does the Met have a policy on the deployment of armed police to incidents that take place in mental health units?

= The MPS does not have a specific policy in relation to the deployment of firearms officers to mental health units.

Firearms officers are deployed to incidents where firearms or weapons are involved. Decisions to deploy firearms officers will include consideration around the type of premises and the persons concerned.

(Note that firearms officers include not only those in armed response vehicles but also Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers and the forty or so officers per borough trained in the use of Tasers.)

The investigation report into the incident at mental secure unit River House includes mentions of some patients 'making threats' but does not make any mention of either 'firearms' or 'weapons' having been in the possession of the patients. Forty-eight police officers were deployed, including armed response units, and four Tasers were drawn.

Commander Christine Jones, lead on mental health for both the Metropolitan Police Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), expressed a more cautious approach at London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21 (pdf) and insisted that all calls for MPS deployment to mental health settings will have to be approved by her team:

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): [...] There is also an appetite to take people down to Grays End to show them the Taser training so that we can have the critical third eye from the lens of the community around when it is used and why it is used.

Again, my sense is that on many occasions police have been in that place because there is nothing else and that is the issue we are working through now. Actually, if you need to restrain in a mental health environment, why would that fall to police? If you woke up in hospital after a triple heart bypass and became violent with staff, there is no question that the police would be called. Of course they would not. In a mental health environment, if the right commissioned services do not exist, there has been a reliance on police attending to support staff. I can absolutely understand that, but we need to move on from that and that is the work we are doing. [...]

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): [...] I do not think police should be going into mental health institutions to restrain and I have put a stop to it. What I have said is --

Jenny Jones (Deputy Chair): You have stopped the TSG being sent?

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): I have stopped police responding to mental health institutions for the purposes of restraint unless there are very, very good reasons why. Claire [Murdoch] and I are busy working through a protocol for London because there are certain areas of London that we get very few calls to and other areas of London that we get lots of calls to. For me, the only time that police should ever go into that health setting, frankly, because you are talking about somebody who is ill, is if there is real danger to life. That is a different issue.

Jenny Jones (Deputy Chair): It is bad for the police as well, of course.

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): Of course it is bad for the police, but imagine what it is like for the person. I cannot think of anything more terrifying. We have an escalation process in place at the moment for the Metropolitan Police Service which basically means that if a mental health institution calls on police, it goes into my mental health team to assess the circumstances before we respond. It is as simple as that. We have that level of commitment that we are all on call virtually 24 hours a day to make sure that if we have to respond we have the right people doing it and for the right reason.

Jenny Jones (Deputy Chair): Do you know if this has actually reduced the number of times the police are going to --

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): Hugely. Absolutely massively.

The press lines detail some new training for firearm officers and front line officers hopefully resulting in respectful encounters with vulnerable individuals and fewer uses of Tasers:

Q3. Do you recognise the concerns from campaigners about the use of armed police in mental health incidents?

= The MPS takes onboard concerns raised around the use of armed officers to mental health incidents and always places the safety of the public paramount.

Met firearms officers attend special training days where they work with mental health workers and patients to assist them in understanding and responding to people who suffer from mental health issues. We have introduced information sharing protocols to obtain fast time intelligence about any person who may be considered EMD (Emotionally or Mentally Distressed) or suffering behavioural disorders. Training around mental health issues is also included as part of officers on going training as well as forming part of the NPFTC (National Police Firearms Training Curriculum) instruction courses for firearms officers.

In September 2012, the Commissioner requested an independent commission to look at the MPS response to mental health. It was also asked to examine the interface between the MPS, mental health services and other partners.

Since the report by Lord Adebowale was published in May 2013, the MPS has fundamentally looked again at how we work as an organisation, and with partner agencies, to improve services, share information and better understand the needs of people with mental ill health with the aim of delivering a service that can be best adapted to fit individual needs.

The 28 Recommendations within the Independent Commission report on Mental Health and Policing (2013) are being progressed and embedded in the direction of travel for policing, both locally and nationally.

We continue to work locally across London and nationally with partners across the health spectrum and we have also contributed to the forthcoming Department of Health Crisis Care Concordat [(pdf)]. This is where a number of national organisations have committed to work together to support local systems to achieve systematic and continuous improvements for crisis care for people with Mental Health issues.

The MPS are also in the process of rolling out the Community Risk MARAC group (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) and a pilot is currently underway in all NW London Boroughs. This is a local partnership forum, where high risk and developing cases can be discussed and problem solved.

The MPS are also in the process of training all front line officers in the Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF). The VAF is a simple investigative approach to assessing vulnerability, in all interactions the police have with the public.

The MPS is committed to delivering a quality of service and care for all those who come into contact with the MPS - especially those who are at their most vulnerable through mental ill health or crisis.

The training of front line officers should have been completed by now and other police staff will be trained by the end of the year:

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): Our training plan starts in January for all frontline officers and goes through to March [2014]. For the frontline uniformed response, so emergency response officers, all of those who work at borough level, they will receive vulnerability assessment training, as will our core staff. By the end of the year, every single member of the Metropolitan Police Service will have received that training, so that is how we will embed it at every stage. Regardless of what department you work in or at what point you engage with a member of the public, everybody was applied the same approach, so that is point number one. [...]

Absolutely, and that is the point, I do not think we have invested enough in teaching our officers to understand vulnerability. What we have said is, “You need to be trained in this, you need to be trained in this, you need to understand this risk assessment, you need to know ...” No, actually, our officers need to know this, that is the primary issue for us, we need to understand the legal framework in which we operate and then the issue is how we understand the vulnerabilities and diverse needs of our communities and that is my issue. I do not think we have trained our officers effectively in recognising vulnerability. We have done lots and lots around race, we have done lots and lots around professionalising investigation, but actually the human piece around this is how we deal with people on a daily basis, how we recognise their different needs by understanding where they may be vulnerable, and to be perfectly honest the feedback that we have had from the communities in London around satisfaction has regularly told us, “The officer failed to recognise my vulnerability”. We have the evidence there; we are now using it to fundamentally change that frontline training and, as I say, every single officer in London will have had that training by the end of next year and every single encounter we have with a member of the public they must apply that framework.

If you have an interest in policing and mental health it is well worth reading the transcript of this Police and Crime Committee session (pdf) in its entirety. One learns that some improvements have already been implemented. Last year I made a series of Freedom of Information requests to the MPS and London's NHS Trusts to get some data on the use of section 136 of the Mental Health Act and was frustrated by the police keeping their data in paper form at borough level:

Christine Jones (Commander, Metropolitan Police Service): I absolutely reflect that unhappiness. When you have disparate systems, disparate information technology (IT) and technology that does not talk to itself, you are immediately into a difficult arena. Until I took over the lead for mental health back in September last year, we had no way of knowing by pressing a button how many people across London we had encountered with vulnerability leading to mental health issues. We had no way of looking up how many Section 136 interventions we had or Section 135.

We changed that in January this year and in April that rolled out across the Metropolitan Police Service, so we now use the Merlin system to highlight vulnerable adults coming to notice.

[...] Good metrics now under Section 136. We have good metrics now.

Some changes have happened while others are going through the organisation. At the Police and Crime Committee, Commander Christine Jones said she 'took over the lead for mental health back in September last year', i.e., September 2012, a month at most before the deployment of 48 police officers at River House. Police involvement at this incident was covered up by the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust and the Metropolitan Police Service. I have two complaints currently with the Information Commissioner's Office, one for each of these organisations about how they are still attempting to avoid publication of information related to this incident. To reassure Londoners that policing of vulnerable individuals with mental health issues is improving, the Metropolitan Police Service will have to improve on their transparency as well as their performance.

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Sat, 29 Mar 2014

More police officers use more Tasers more often

Home Office statistics show that the use of Tasers keeps increasing, by 27% in 2013 compared to 2012. Police officers in England and Wales equipped with Tasers used them 10,380 times in 2013. More police officers are responsible for this increase. The article Tasers: the 'non-lethal' weapon reckoned to have caused more than 500 deaths, published in November 2013 on The Justice Gap, explains that, '[i]nitially only Authorised Firearm Officers (AFO) were equipped with Tasers, however 'Currently there are 14,700 officer trained to use Tasers [but the] number of AFOs is 6,979.' The Justice Gap has also published a video of a Taser refresher course with the London Metropolitan Police in 'Shocking Britain': the controversial roll-out of the Taser.

The timeline for rollout in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is described in a letter to the London Assembly's Chair of the Police and Crime Committee:

The initial trial of Taser concluded on the 31st March 2004.  In July 2007 the Home Secretary approved a year long trial of 10 forces to extend the use to "specially trained units" (STUs). The MPS was one of these forces. Its use was initially restricted to SCO20 (TSG) officers. In February 2012 Management Board supported the extension of Taser to other STUs including those on Boroughs.

In October 2012, when 48 police officers were deployed to River House, an NHS mental health unit (NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward), this extension to borough officers hadn't been completed. And the police wanted Tasers to 'managed the situation' involving mental health patients. AC Mark Rowley wrote 'Armed response vehicles responded to this incident as they were the nearest available unit with a Taser capability. You will recall that at this time, only firearms officers and TSG were the only units equipped with Taser.' The MPS confirms that the roll-out of Tasers to trained Territorial Police officers has been completed:

All 32 London boroughs now have a group of officers on their borough who are trained in the use of Taser.

[...] Around forty officers from each borough have been trained in the use of Taser. The initial training is now complete. Taser trained officers are deployed in pairs in two cars on each borough, that's a maximum of 4 officers per 8 hour shift over a 24 hour period.

Even more officers may eventually get a Taser as '[i]n November 2011, Commissioner Hogan-Howe said that all officers should have easy availability of Taser.' (interview with LBC radio as reported in Governance of Taser and other less-lethal weaponry). And as a report published earlier this week by the Independent Police Complaint Commission shows, some of these officers make mistakes with terrible consequences such as firing a Taser on a 63-year old blind man with a white stick when looking for someone in his mid-twenties with a sword.

How Tasers are used is recorded:

Level of use Type of use % uses in 2013 (*) Definition
Highest use Fired 17% The taser is fired with a live cartridge installed. When the trigger is pulled, the probes are fired towards the subject with the intention of completing an electrical circuit and delivering an incapacitating effect.
  Angled Drive Stun
The officer fires the weapon with a live cartridge installed. One or both probes may attach to the subject The officer then holds the taser against the subject's body in a different area to the probe(s), in order to complete the electrical circuit and deliver an incapacitating effect.
  Drive stun 3% The taser is held against the subject's body and the trigger is pulled with no probes being fired. Contact with the subject completes the electrical circuit which causes pain but does not deliver an incapacitating effect.
Non-discharges Red dot 51% The weapon is not fired. Instead, the taser is deliberately aimed and then partially activated so that a laser red dot is placed onto the subject.
  Arcing 1% Sparking of the taser without aiming it or firing it.
  Aimed 5% Deliberate aiming of the taser at a targeted subject.
Lowest use Drawn 22% Drawing of taser in circumstances where any person could reasonably perceive the action to be a use of force.

(*) Percentage for England and Wales that 'excludes Humberside and West Midlands who are unable to provide a full breakdown of taser use'. (Source)

Even though information about Taser use is held, it does not follow that police forces are forthcoming about how Tasers were used at specific incidents. In my Freedom of Information requests to the MPS about the River House incident, no such data was provided. This is subject to an internal review.

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Thu, 20 Mar 2014

NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward

Two inter-related incidents involving service users happened on the night of 2012-10-01 at the River House (RH) mental secure unit, part of the Bethlem Royal Hospital run by the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust. Police were called for both incidents and SLaM has attempted to cover this up. A news story the next day did reveal that Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers were called, but not how many and whether any other specialist units had also been deployed. A few days later a whistle blower and two external third party individuals alerted the Care Quality Commission. When queried about these incidents, SLaM admitted that 'police had been called' without elaborating any further. Data obtained from a campaign of freedom of information (FoI) requests to SLaM, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Monitor, and an ongoing complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office about the breaches of the Freedom of Information Act in SLaM's responses has revealed the extent of this cover up: 48 police officers were deployed including six officers from armed response units, two from dog units, 21 PC from the TSG and the entire Bromley Borough Night Response team. The TSG, armed and dog units officers are all trained to use Tasers. Further information shows that TSG officers entered the mental health ward and four drew their Tasers. They were called that night to manage a situation involving vulnerable individuals suffering from mental health issues.

SLaM commissioned an independent investigation report. Although dated 2013-05-10, it was eventually published on 2013-08-29 with a large amount of text redacted; simply deleted in non compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (pdf). The minutes of the board of directors announcing this report had been commissioned disappeared from SLaM's website before eventually being republished after contacting SLaM. The authors of the independent investigation report are not named and not known, SLaM wrote on one occasion that '[t]he investigation panel included a consultant lead investigator with a senior nursing background, a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist and a Forensic Nurse Consultant [... and] that the authors of the investigation report are sufficiently qualified people who are able to conduct such an investigation and were appointed by the Trust Board.' (pdf) and on another that '[t]he investigation is being undertaken by a retired Director of Nursing, a forensic psychiatrist and a senior nurse with experience of security management.' (pdf)

2012 annual march against deaths in custody

This incident happened two years after Olaseni Lewis died after being restrained by up to 11 policemen at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and only two months to the day after the Sean Rigg inquest verdict, in which SLaM's failings were criticised to have 'more than minimally contributed to the Sean Rigg’s death'. SLaM stated on 2012-11-08 in its first response to my FoI requests that luckily this time 'there were no injuries to patients or staff in this incident'. It reiterated this position to its board of directors: 'there were no reports of any injuries to staff or patients.' However the investigation report states: 'One patient sustained injury to his hand during the second incident. No physical injuries were sustained by staff.' Another discrepancy: at a meeting of Lambeth's Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee, SLaM stated 'The police had been called for support but the incident had been managed well by staff at SLaM and the police did not get involved in the incident', however the investigation report, even though it does not go into details into police involvement, contradicts this statement: 'With the assistance of the Metropolitan Police and the first on-call CAG manager, three of the four patients were, after several hours, placed in supervised confinement (SC) on other wards.'

Following a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office, on 2014-02-28, SLaM sent in another version of its report with some text previously redacted now included and what remains redacted shown as blacked out text (pdf). As of this writing this less redacted report has still not replaced the first version on SLaM's website.

The following details the shocking information that we have uncovered.

The incidents

From the investigation report:

This is the report of an Independent investigation commissioned by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, following two separate but related patient incidents on the night of 1st October 2012, involving Norbury patients on Spring Ward.

[...] The first incident began at approximately 2200, when one patient, as part of his recurrent delusional state, accused the designated ward-based security nurse on the night shift of stealing designer wear and trainers which he believed his mother had brought to RH for him.

Attempts to deescalate this incident were unsuccessful. Although a decision was taken to offer the patient prn medication, a second patient destabilised the intervention and two other patients subsequently became involved. Staff considered the situation to be unsafe and retreated to the nursing station.

Assistance from the Metropolitan Police was first requested at 2244 and the first police officer from Bromley Police Station arrived promptly at 2247.

The police contend that on arrival they were unable to access key information about the patients involved in the first disturbance which frustrated their ability to risk assess the situation.

[...] With the assistance of the Metropolitan Police and the first on-call CAG manager, three of the four patients were, after several hours, placed in supervised confinement (SC) on other wards. The clinical environment was restored at approximately 0230.

In the second incident which occurred at approximately 0250, one patient challenged staff with regard to decisions which had been taken about the management of the four patients involved in the first incident. He accused them of discrimination, believing that there had been a racist motive and that staff had assisted the police to pursue this line of action. He threatened to kill staff and one of the white perpetrators, who he declared had been treated differently to the black perpetrators. This resulted in nursing staff losing control of the ward for a second time when they retreated to the nursing station.

This [second] incident also required intervention from on-call managers and the Metropolitan Police. The clinical environment was finally restored at 0500.

SLaM suggests only local police showed up

The day following the incident, the Bromley News Shopper ran a story, Bethlem Hospital secure unit incident attended by police and firefighters:

Officers from Bromley police and the territorial support group dealt with the situation and left the scene at around 2.50am.

And three fire engines were sent to the scene at about 12.30am after receiving reports of a fire alarm going off but there was no fire.

There were no arrests or reports of any injuries to staff or patients.

A whisteblower contacted the Care Quality Commission (CQC) by 2012-10-11 with concerns relating 'to safety of patients and staff and level of incidents.' The next day, the CQC MHA [Mental Health Act] Operations Manager wrote to the CQC Compliance Inspector:

[...] 2. Patients safety incident on Riverside Unit (involving -----)

This is a very serious matter, clearly the ward team lost control of the care of their patients and the situation may well have been much more serious than it has been. I noted the trust have provide a 'fact finding' report and commissioned an independent investigation.

3. Whistle blowing information received

This information appears authoritative and provides background information which would have [sic]

I felt the priorities are as follows:

a) Immediate. From the documentation sent through, unless there is other information I have not seen I am concerned that the provider does not appear to have demonstrated that they have taken robust action to make the ward environment safer in the light of the incident. This they could do quickly by, for example, increasing staff numbers, decreasing patient numbers, closing to new admissions for a temporary period. Further, issues of staff training, availability and skill mix all seems to be pertinent issues here. These are not ones that should need an independent clinical governance report to help them address. Should they not be able to identify and address issues immediately without recourse to an independent investigation then this further erodes confidence in their management capabilities. [...]

A 'third party individual' was concerned enough to get in touch with Care Quality Commission (CQC) on 2012-10-18. The CQC summarised the received email:

The concerns can be summarised as follows:

- Complainant wished to inform CQC of a violent incident that occurred on the SLAM secure forensic wards on Monday 1 October 2012 and request CQC investigate it
- Overall concerns raised for the safety of detained patients, in particular those from ethnic minorities - especially in light of the Sean Rigg Case in 2010.
- Overuse of restraint and medication
- Culture of intimidation
- Allegations that the trust was covering up details of the incident on 1 Oct, especially in relation to police involvement.
- Over representation of BME people being detained by the Trust

The complainant also made a request for information relating to the incident and its aftermath including:

• Information relating to the police becoming involved, numbers, equipment used, action taken by police against patients
• Numbers of patients involved
• Any injuries sustained by patients
• Details of any restraint or increase in medication of patient following incident
• Timing of incident/resolution
• Reasons for incident

Another concerned third-party individual wrote two letters on 2012-10-22. One addressed to the Care Quality Commission and another to alert the chair of Lambeth's Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Committee, copying the Lambeth Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, the Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission, a Special Correspondent at the BBC and the Director of Black Mental Health UK:

[...] This letter is to request that the CQC conduct an independent investigation into the matter and SLAM's treatment of its patients, particularly those from ethnic minority communities as a matter of urgency.

The recent high profile fatalities of black men in the care of SLAM make this latest incident of particular concern.

The Sean Rigg inquest verdict concluded that SLAM's negligence had more than minimally contributed to his death. Rigg died in 2008 and SLAM made public statements that improvements have been made in the treatment (particularly of black patients detained in their care).

However, in 2010, -------------- [the name of Olaseni Lewis is redacted in the copy of this letter disclosed by the CQC] died after he was restrained by 14 police officers for 45 minutes while on a secure ward run by SLAM.

After police release ---- [Lewis] and he was lying in a semi conscious state on the floor of a seclusion room, SLAM staff then injected him with antipsychotic medication. The inquest into the death of --------- [Seni Lewis] will being in March 2013 [this inquest has since been delayed].

I think it is important for the CQC to be aware of the recent history of this trust as it is in light of this that I am writing to you as the health regulator about the riot that occurred on wards run by SLAM on the evening of Monday 1 October 2012.

I have been made aware that the over use of force and high doses of antipsychotics and tranquillisers dominates the way patients are treated in secure wards run by this Trust.

The oppressive culture of this health provider may have been a factor behind the riot at the Bethlam [sic] which is run by SLAM on Monday 1 October.

This letter is also to request that you contact the chief executive of SLAM regarding the issues that have been raised in this letter and also for the CQC to conduct an independent investigation into this incident.

The particular concerns about the incident, which I would like the CQC to investigate include: establishing level of police involvement. It would be helpful to establish how many patients were restrained or subject to force by the police during this incident. I would also like the CQC to find out if Tasers, CS spray, Alsatian attack dogs, batons, hand cuffs or riot gear was used during this incident and also the levels and number of psychical injuries sustained by patients.

I look forward to hearing from you as to what action will be taken in response to this complaint; I would like to know how this information will be made available to the general public. [...]

The investigation report was not conducted by the CQC but commissioned by SLaM, and the CQC has no issue with the amount redacted in the heavily redacted version first published: 'The report published by the Trust is intended to demonstrate accountability for issues which arose at the Trust and to show how the Trust intends to prevent similar occurrences in the future. CQC does not consider that the addition of the redacted passages in the Report would further demonstrate accountability, and would instead be more likely to cause significant safety concerns for staff working in River House (and in fact officers from other agencies such as the Police, Ambulance Service and Fire Brigade).'

At the meeting of the Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee, on 2012-10-23, SLaM was asked about this incident, and its response carefully avoids any details even those already known such as the attendance of TSG officers and paints a rosy picture:

In response to queries from Members, representatives from SLaM made the following comments:

[...] A serious incident had occurred the previous week at the Bethlem involving two patients at SLaM taking other patients and staff hostage. The police had been called for support but the incident had been managed well by staff at SLaM and the police did not get involved in the incident. This demonstrated that improvements had already been made to the way in which the Police and SLaM were working together and the team which was called in to deal with such situations were adequately trained.

[...] As follow up actions he proposed that: [...]

· A note of the meeting be sent to Monitor
· That the principles of openness and transparency should be endorsed by health trusts. It is healthy for the health overview and scrutiny committee to be informed of instances such as occurred on 1 October 2012 and all should work towards a protocol on sharing information.

The board of directors of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust was notified of the incidents at the 2012-11-27 board meeting:

Gus Heafield reported that there was an incident involving patients at River House at Bethlem Royal Hospital on the evening of 1st October 2012. Staff responded promptly and professionally and called the police who attended the scene with fire crews. The incident was contained within the unit and there were no reports of any injuries to staff or patients. An external investigation will be carried out and it was noted that the three members of the independent panel had been appointed and terms of reference for the review had been agreed. The review was due to be completed in January 2013. The Care Quality Commission had been notified of the incident and has been kept informed about the independent review.

Again, the investigation report as it was first published on 2013-05-10 did not mention the presence of Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers that were known to be on the scene from the earlier news story or any more details about the amount of police involvement:

This [first incident] necessitated intervention from the RH Rapid Response team, The Bethlem Royal Hospital (BRH) Emergency Team, various on-call managers from the Behavioural and Developmental Psychiatry (BDP) Clinical Academic Group (CAG), an On-Call Executive Director, the Metropolitan Police, the London Ambulance Service, and the presence of the London Fire Brigade.

Fifteen months later, we learn that 48 police officers were deployed including officers from armed and dog units

In responses to Freedom of Information requests, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) after describing that the 'disturbance at the River House facility, was treated as a critical incident by the MPS and accordingly involved many different police units' eventually gave an account on 2013-12-31, of the scale of its involvement:

The number of officers initially deployed were:

1 Inspector
1 Police Sergeant
10 Police Constables from the response team at Bromley.

The Inspector declared the incident "otherwise so dangerous" and requested Commissioners Reserve.

As a result further officers were deployed which were:

2 Inspectors
3 Sergeants
21 Police Constables from the Territorial Support Group. (TSG)
6 Police Officers in two vehicles from the Armed Response Unit (ARV) - These were stood down upon the arrival of the TSG
2 Police Officers from the Dog Unit (with two dogs) - These were stood down upon the arrival of the TSG
1 Detective Sergeant,
1 Detective Constable from Bromley

In the version of the investigation report SLaM published on 2014-02-28, SLaM unredacted the following:

This necessitated intervention from [...] three divisions of the Metropolitan Police

[...] In the course of approximately three and a half hours, somewhere in the region of forty police officers were on-site, ______________________________________________ the Territorial Support Group (TSS) [sic] – Commissioner’s reserve, three police dog units and Trojan (specially trained armed officers).

[...] The Lock Down policy stipulates that for a major incident the Bronze, Silver and Gold command structure should be established.

As SLaM didn't follow proper procedures for redacting text, we also found out that SLaM attempted to cover up that the entire Bromley Borough police night response team was deployed to River House and that it failed to put in place a proper command structure:

In the course of approximately three and a half hours, somewhere in the region of forty police officers were on-site, comprising the entire Bromley Borough Night Response team, the Territorial Support Group (TSS) [sic] – Commissioner’s reserve, three police dog units and Trojan (specially trained armed officers).

[...] The Lock Down policy stipulates that for a major incident the Bronze, Silver and Gold command structure should be established.

The police adopted this modus operandus, but despite the fact that several managers became involved throughout the night, four of whom came on-site at various times, there is no evidence that the Bronze, Silver or Gold command roles were assigned to Trust staff to work with the police accordingly.

Armed police officers, dog units and riot police officers have no place on a mental health ward. Having a situation deteriorates to the point that SLaM and the MPS decided it needed such a high police response brings serious concerns as to the safety of the vulnerable service users being treated.

Many questions remain unanswered

We know that the Metropolitan Police Service classified these incidents as critical and that they established a Bronze, Silver and Gold command structure. However we do not (yet) know from which units officers forming this command structure came from, and we do not know if any weapon, whether guns, Tasers, batons or CS sprays were drawn and / or used, or whether any dog was released. London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones has written to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner, Sarah Green, ICC Deputy Chair and Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care Support to raise her concerns and ask for this information.

The only records the police have so far managed to find or 'locate' are exempted from disclosure. It is also likely they are reading the request too literally as they claim not to have any 'final report' for the incident but it is most likely they would have a report of some sort or similar document for a critical incident involving so many officers from several units and a command structure:

To assess who or may have relevant information for this request at least 12 (Twelve) separate CAD messages, the MPS electronic message system, were created and run for the incident mentioned. [Source]

 

Despite our searches there is no information held in regards to the final report [completed for the incident]. [Source]

 

The records held include ten CAD reports [Computer-Aided Dispatch] and one CRIMINT report [Criminal Intelligence database]. The CADs relate to the 999 call and subsequent dispatch of officers, the CRIMINT is an intelligence report.

I have been informed that on Incident Management Log was created however despite searches on borough and with the senior investigating officer I have not been able to locate this document.

Furthermore one document refers to a meeting in which this matter was to be discussed, again no further information could be found in respect of this meeting which may or may not have occurred. [Source]

The IPCC does not have any information at all about these incidents:

I am writing to advise you that, following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by the IPCC. This is because the IPCC was not involved in this incident.

Section 3 of the investigation report is a list of recommendations, some requiring immediate action and the latest one due by March 2014. Apart from the vague description of some immediate actions taken to make the ward safer listed in an email dated 2012-10-15 between the CQC and SLaM (names are redacted), we do not know whether any of the recommended actions have been implemented; we also do not know whether any restraint were used on patients and the effect this situation had on both patients and staff:

Some of the findings of the investigation report show a continuing need to improves safety: '[t]he lack of awareness of the risks outlined above and the ease with which these were quickly identified by the Independent team, suggests a less than optimal grip on environmental security in which safe clinical practice takes place' and '[s]ystems and safety culture are the root cause of the majority of incidents and no less so in relation to what took place on the night in question.'

Between 2012-01-01 and 2012-10-19, 196 violent incidents at River House were reported to the National Patient Safety Agency. Of these 101 were within the Bromley Local Authority and 95 in Lambeth.

Category Number
Assault by a patient 77
Challenging Behaviour 50
Aggression 42
Inappropriate Behaviour 18
Harassment by a patient 4
Sexual Assault by a patient 2
Sexual Assault by a staff member 1
Assault by a staff member 1
Assault by other (e.g. a visitor) 1
Total 196

It is not known whether the police was called to any of the other violent incidents reported. As safety of patients and staff is paramount, SLaM must become more transparent into the way it operates.

Update 2014-03-21

The day following publication of this article, SLaM has accepted that its use of Freedom of Information exemptions was unwarranted:

As you know, the Trust has previously withheld some aspects of the Report from disclosure by applying the exemptions in sections 38 (health and safety) and 40 (personal data) of the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

Following your complaint, the Information Commissioner’s Office has undertaken an independent assessment. The Trust has now resolved to withdraw its use of the exemptions in sections 38 and 40 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) to the Report and to disclose it in an un-redacted form.

The version of the investigation report just sent in with the blacked out text now visible is available here (pdf). To identify more readily the new information, I had recreated the document highlighting the differences but had not released it until now in case the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) ruled some exemptions were justified; you can check it here (pdf).

There remains one unaddressed issue in my complaint to the ICO, the investigation report mentions, on page 10, 'section 17 of this Independent report' however there are only three sections in the published report. Also mentioned, on page 2, is that the 'report refers to ten patients, whom for the purposes of confidentiality have been anonymised (referred to as patients A to J)', however only patients A to B are referred to. These are either typos or there are further missing sections.

Update 2014-03-24

London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones has kindly shared the letter (pdf) she has received last week from Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley. It clarifies that only TSG officers, armed with Tasers, entered the mental health ward (25 TSG officers had been deployed at River House) and that out of those that entered the ward, four drew their Tasers:

[...] The Commissioner’s reserve of TSG [Territorial Support Group] was deployed to resolve this incident and when they arrived they effectively took over from the ARV's [Armed Response Vehicle units]. I would stress that they [sic] ARV's never left the rendezvous point. As you may be aware the Commissioners reserve operate as a single unit of 1 Inspector, 3 Sergeants and 21 PCs. This of course would contribute to the seemingly large number of officers on scene at the incident. However, only officers from the TSG entered the ward and although 4 officers had their Taser drawn, through effective use verbal commands they safely resolved the situation without any further use of force. I can also confirm that the Dog support units did not deploy on to the ward.

[...] I am sorry that you have heard that this incident has damaged the confidence of black Londoners in relation to policing and mental health. This scale of incident is quite rare, in fact the MPS has reduced the number of calls that it attends at health based places of safety by 70%, but I remain concerned that police officers are being asked to carry out restraint in mental health facilities. To try to resolve this, protocols between health service managers and police Duty Officers are currently being developed. [...] Unfortunately there is no current time frame for this work to be completed.

This does not state whether TSG officers did restrain any patient that night, and if so how many (the investigation report describes that police assisted in placing three patients in supervised confinement). Also AC Mark Rowley figure of 70% reduction of police calls is meaningless as no period is given, nor a basis or a target for this reduction (and the definition of 'health based places of safety' is open to interpretation).

Update 2014-05-02

SLaM has published the list of actions it has taken as a response to the recommendations of section 3 of the investigation report in this pdf.

References

Relevant Freedom of Information (FoI) requests and other sources (note that the date for FoI requests is the date when the request was sent):

First published on 2014-03-20; last updated on 2014-05-05 (added mention of SLaM unredacting the blacked out text in the investigation report, the letter of AC Mark Rowley to Jenny Jones, the publication of the response to the recommendations and minor other corrections).

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Fri, 28 Feb 2014

Getting smart with a Genius

[This is an extended version of a guest post that was published by The Restart Project.]

Spots and dust marks in a picture of the Tamara de Lempicka flat designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens

About a year ago, my sister in law got a free iPhone 5 from her network. She had no use for it, so she gave it to me. Recently I noticed a couple of problems: the top power switch is becoming harder to operate, and more annoyingly the pictures taken with the phone show spots and dust marks.

I didn't have any paperwork for the phone, but believed it was still under warranty as the first photo I took with the phone is dated February 28th last year. Even counting a week in the post, my sister in law was likely to have gotten it less than a year ago, so I booked an appointment with an Apple Genius at the Covent Garden store.

The famed Genius Bar is gone, it has been replaced with many smallish high rectangular table where everyone wait on stools for Geniuses to come in your personal space. As my personal Genius equipped with an iPad, explained, it is now '360 degrees'. It makes for a very noisy environment and he could hardly hear what I was saying.

After ensuring my phone was on one of the shop's two WiFi networks and that 'Find my iPhone' was deactivated, my Genius ran some remote diagnostics and declared that the phone was five days out of warranty. He explained that there was no grace period. He was happy to 'fix' as long as I didn't mind contributing a flat fee of £209!

He explained that the spots were inside the lens of the camera, that they don't have camera modules anymore so they just replace the iPhone. The difficulty with the power switch was caused by some rubber disintegrating. He offered to get rid of the dust on the lens for free and disappeared with the phone for five minutes. When he came back, there was a bit more dust! The Genius stated that he found there was a lot of residue in the phone and that could be part of the problem.

Both the power switch issue (documented here and here) and the camera one (documented here) are widespread among iPhone 5 owners and considered by all, but Apple, to be manufacturing defects that tend to manifest themselves after about a year. There's even a small petition about the power switch issue.

As I was unwilling to part with this much cash for fixing manufacturing defects, and the Genius suggested I check with my sister in law for any paperwork showing the phone was still in warranty. I had a frustrating discussion with him, asking why Apple won't fix what are widely known issues that are not caused by the user. He explained that he has no discretion.

No paperwork could be found, and nine days later I was back in the Apple Store, this time joined by Ugo, co-founder of The Restart Project. We went through a similar process, but also showed that older photographs taken well within the warranty period already exhibited spots, and some just before the warranty expiration also showed dust marks.

We then mentioned to him that according to Apple discussion forums, Apple has in other occasions accepted such evidence to provide a replacement.

Our clear awareness of the issue at stake and of online evidence in support of our claim, as well as the polite persistence which we used, convinced the Genius that he could have a chat with his supervisor, who approved a replacement.

The 'Problem Description/Diagnosis' in the 'Work Authorisation & Service Confirmation' is as follows:

Issue: Spots in camera
Steps to Reproduce: Issue has been observed and verified on the bar
Proposed Resolution: Replacement in warranty as customer has proof of issues existing from time of purchase.
Cosmetic Condition: Light wear and tear to enclosure

The Genius brought a replacement iPhone 5 and explained that when they discontinue a model, they manufacture some more parts for warranty purposes. The extra 'part' that had been manufactured was a whole phone. (Replacement parts come with a 90 days warranty.)

This replacement phone had been built between 18 and 24 November 2013 (according to CoconutID) and was running iOS v6.1.4. Apple both discontinued the iPhone 5 and released iOS v7.0 in September 2013, months before this replacement had been manufactured.

When asked what would happen to the phone with the damaged camera module and power switch, the Genius volunteered it would be 'destroyed'. A replacement rear camera module is available online for a tenner and the power button cable for two, but not from Apple.

The true cost of mobile phones is high as Gaia Foundation's Wake up call shows. Manufacturers must take responsibility for manufacturing defects for the useable life of their products. Externalising such costs on the consumer creates a perverse incentive for planned obsolescence.

Bootnote: Read an earlier post on becoming a restarter.

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Fri, 18 Oct 2013

The sixth DNA database

Keith Vaz recently asked ' what DNA databases are currently held by the Government; what the function is of each; how many people are included on each; where each database is held; for how long each database has been open; and where each such database will be held after the Government's reforms of national policing are complete. James Brokenshire, Minister for Crime and Security at the Home Office, provided the following holding answer:

The Government currently holds five databases containing electronic DNA profile information. Details below reflect the position as it stood on 30 September 2013.

The national DNA database (NDNAD) holds DNA profiles taken from individuals and crime scenes. It is used for purposes related to the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or the conduct of a prosecution; in the interests of national security; for the purposes of a terrorist investigation; and for purposes related to the identification of a deceased person or of the person to whom material relates. It was set up in April 1995 and currently holds 6,074,866 DNA profiles.

The missing persons DNA database holds DNA profiles obtained from the belongings of people who have gone missing, or from their close relatives (who will have similar DNA), as well as profiles taken from the bodies of unidentified people. It matches missing people (sometimes via their relatives) to unidentified bodies, and can also eliminate a missing person if an unidentified body is found matching their description. It was set up in April 2010 and currently holds 895 DNA profiles.

The vulnerable persons DNA database holds DNA profiles of people who are at risk of harm (for instance due to child sexual exploitation or honour-based violence) and who have asked for their profile to be added. If the person subsequently goes missing, their profile can be checked against the main NDNAD to see if they match to any material such as blood or an unidentified body found at a crime scene, helping the police to investigate their disappearance. It was set up in March 2011 and currently holds 1,967 DNA profiles.

The police elimination database holds DNA profiles for police officers and staff. These profiles are used for elimination purposes in criminal casework. It was set up in August 2000 and currently holds 127,100 profiles.

These four databases are run by the Home Office, having been transferred from the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) on its closure.

The counter-terrorism (CT) DNA database holds profiles retained specifically for the purposes of national security. It was established in July 2006 and is managed and maintained by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on behalf of UK CT policing. Due to the sensitive nature of the CT DNA database it is not possible to confirm the number of profiles held.

A sixth DNA database in England

As mentioned in the earlier post 1,136,000 DNA profiles and 6,341,000 samples gone, but stealth DNA database of everyone being planned, GeneWatch UK reported on 'the Government [plan] to build a DNA database of the whole population of England in the NHS by stealth [and to make this] information available to commercial companies and [...] also accessible to the police, social workers, security services and Government.'

NHS England has already notified GP practices, according to Pulse, that they had eight weeks to inform their patients that confidential data from their medical records will be shared with private companies: 'The letter said: Upon receipt of this letter, you will have approximately eight weeks to make your patients aware before the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) will begin extracting data via the GP Extraction Service (GPES) for those patients who have not objected.’

To object, you must opt-out. MedConfidential has published information about how to opt-out, including a template letter to send to your GP.

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Sun, 04 Aug 2013

A real public nuisance: political persecution

Book launch of 'The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield: A Prison Diary'

Trenton Oldfield undertook a peaceful direct-action protest at the 2012 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. He disrupted the boat race for about 20 minutes by swimming in front of the boats. The aim of his protest was 'to focus attention on the long-standing and entirely unjust inequalities in British society that are being severely exacerbated by government cuts and reductions in civil liberties.'

He was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to a six-month jail term and served two months in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Australian-born, he has spent the last twelve years in the UK, is married to a British citizen and has a few weeks old daughter. The Home Office did not find the punishment of the criminal justice system was enough and in a vindictive move has refused his spousal visa so he is at risk of being expelled back to Australia. His wife, Deepa, explained: 'A few weeks ago we learned that Trenton's visa application (submitted 1 year ago) has been declined on grounds that he is "a threat to national security", "undesirable" and "not conducive to public good". We have submitted an appeal and are awaiting a tribunal date, which should take place within 2 months time. [...] Everything is now at stake for us - our work, our livelihood, our family and life in London.' They are currently waiting for the outcome of this appeal.

Ways you can support Trenton Oldfield and his family include signing a petition to the Home Office to request that the Home Office reconsiders its 'Refusal Notice', contacting your MP and purchasing his prison diary.

A public nuisance

After his swim, Trenton Oldfield was arrested and initially charged with a section 5 (disorderly behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress) public order offence. Following political pressure, this charge was changed. Conservative MP Michael Ellis asked the Metropolitan Police commissioner in a Home Affairs Committee:

Q52 Michael Ellis: Commissioner, on the Olympic security arrangements, are you particularly concerned after the University Boat Race incident? The fact of the matter is that one idiot seemed to be able to cause significant disruption, and I think one of the captains of the teams pointed out that they had worked for nine months towards a goal that was spoiled by one individual in an act of self-aggrandisement. [...] I particularly also want to ask you about the penalties available, because I notice from media coverage that the individual who disrupted the boat race appears to have been charged with a section 5 offence under the Public Order Act 1986, which is one of the most minor offences in the book, carries no custodial penalty option at all and usually only results in a small fine. Do we need to look at available offences?

Bernard Hogan-Howe: I do know that the CPS are reviewing whether a more serious charge is possible, given the circumstances. So I think they have one charge and they are reviewing whether another one could be more appropriate. That is not straightforward.

The charge was then changed to that of 'Causing a Public Nuisance'. (After considering offences available under the Terrorism Act, I was eventually arrested, though not charged, also, for a public nuisance offence.) The Crown Prosecution Service specifies in its sentencing manual that the Common Law offence of Public Nuisance has for 'Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty: Life imprisonment or a fine or both'.

The Law Commission consulted in 2010 on a 'Simplification of the Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency'. Its recommended option was 'Option 3: enact a statute abolishing the common law offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency and creating statutory offences in their place, with an intention or recklessness standard.' The consultation document gives some examples of public nuisance, the views of one of the key critics of this offence and how this offence was classified:

Examples of public nuisance are:

(1) obstructing the highway;

(2) blasting and quarrying near built-up areas;

(3) allowing land to be used as a dump, creating a dangerous or noxious environment;

(4) noisy parties and “raves”;

(5) bomb hoaxes and false calls to the emergency services;

(6) hanging from motorways and bridges, for example in political demonstrations;

(7) keeping pumas in a domestic garden;

(8) gang activity involving drug dealing in an urban area.

[...]

The offence has been extensively criticised in an article by J R Spencer [Public Nuisance – a critical examination (1989)]. His first argument is that the offence is so wide and the definition is so fluid that it lacks the certainty required of a criminal offence. His second argument is that almost all examples of public nuisance are now covered by specialised statutory offences. He concludes that the offence should be abolished, either without replacement or in favour of a narrower offence of doing anything which creates a major hazard to the physical safety or health of the public.

[...]

Today public nuisance may still conveniently be divided into two categories, though the classification is different from the historical one given above. The first is “environmental” nuisance, such as harmful substances and smells and obstructing the highway. The second is “behavioural” nuisance, covering offensive behaviour in public. This class is narrowed but not abolished by Rimmington: the test is that the offending behaviour affects several people at once and is not a mere series of acts that annoy individuals. There is some overlap between the two categories: for example drug dealing and the holding of noisy parties in public both affect the amenities of an area and are offensive in themselves.

Brenna Bhandar, Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary, University of London, explains in details the 'interesting history' of the crime of public nuisance in The Criminalisation of Political Dissent: Huckstering the Law. Here's her view of the ruling in Trenton Oldfield's case within this context:

[...] Let’s take the crime of public nuisance as an example. It has its origins in a private law action for interference with one’s property, and then drifts into the public sphere as a means of criminalising improper conduct (along with interference with private property). This is not only a matter of Justice Molyneux having misconstrued who constitutes the “public” in considering who suffered the harm in this case. Nor is it solely about a judge upholding the interests of the elite who were engaged in a sporting event, over the rights of Trenton Oldfield to express political dissent of myriad forms of inequality and injustice. The crime of public nuisance has its origins, and remains in essence, a law concerned with protecting private property and notions of propriety. For this reason and others, the crime of public nuisance should be abolished.

[...] Nearly if not all of the type of public nuisance offences that the law was historically intended to apply to have now been covered by statute. The profligate doctrine of health and safety breeds new rules and regulations daily it seems; and criminal law offences have become increasingly codified. What is left, after all of this content has been emptied out is a dangerously elastic form of criminal offence that can literally be applied to any sort of conduct. And with this, we arrive at Oldfield’s sentencing hearing.

A peaceful direct action to expose some of the policies of this government, led to charges being changed from a public order offence to 'a dangerously elastic form of criminal offence that can literally be applied to any sort of conduct', a jail term and now threats of deportation. Such vindictiveness by the Home Office has succeeded in rallying even those most angered by Oldfield's direct action, such as rower Tobias Garnett, to support him:

[...] Despite my disagreement with Oldfield, the Home Office's decision this week to reject his application for a spousal visa leaves me in an uneasy position: thinking his actions were indefensible, and yet now wanting to defend him.

[...] I know what each of the participants of that race committed to when they stepped into those boats, and I share in their anger at Oldfield. But these things are more important than a race. People with whom we disagree are the best test of the fairness of our legal system. When asked to comment on the matter, a Home Office spokesman said, "those who come to the UK must abide by our laws". They ought to be protected by them too.

The petition calling on the Home Secretary to immediately withdraw her threat to deport Trenton Oldfield is still open.

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Mon, 22 Jul 2013

Commencement day of DNA provisions of the Protection of Freedom Act in October

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office Lord Taylor of Holbeach has eventually made an order – The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Commencement No. 7) Order 2013 – to commence the provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which relate to the destruction, retention and use of material including fingerprints, DNA samples and DNA profiles. These provisions will be commenced on 2013-10-31. A few provisions relating to the destruction of copies of fingerprints which will commence only on 2014-01-31.

One section which is not commenced by this order is section 22 about the 'Guidance on making national security determinations'.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach also made the order Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Destruction, Retention and Use of Biometric Data) (Transitional, Transitory and Saving Provisions) Order 2013 that deals with the destruction, retention and use of biometric data retained before the moment the DNA provisions of the Protections of Freedom Act are effectively commenced.

In the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing bill committee, Damien Green, pointed out that 'In preparation for the implementation of the Protection of Freedoms Act, 7.7 million samples taken to produce DNA profiles have now been destroyed.' Here is the updated table, first published in the post 1,136,000 DNA profiles and 6,341,000 samples gone, but stealth DNA database of everyone being planned:

  2012-03-04 2012-03-19 2013-05-20 2013-07-16
DNA profile deletions 504,000 504,000 1,136,000  
DNA sample destructions 439,000 453,000 6,341,000 7.7 million
Source: Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill committee 203-07-16, Ministerial statement 2013-05-20, Parliamentary written answer 2013-03-21, Ministerial statement 2013-03-04

Analysis of biological samples to become costly for the defence

In the committee, Damien Green, explained that Clause 10 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing bill will amend the Protection of Freedoms Act to ensure biological samples that becomes relevant to disputed issues in court proceedings have not been destroyed by the time those proceedings take place:

[The Protection of Freedom Act] requires biological samples of all types to be destroyed, including blood, semen, urine, saliva, hair and skin swabs. That affects not only samples used for adding profiles to the DNA database, but those used for purposes such as testing for drug and alcohol use, violent and sexual contact between suspects and victims, and exposure to chemicals such as those associated with explosives, firearms or drug production.

Note that access to the analysis of these biological samples may become costly to the defence. 'Most material held by the prosecution was previously provided free to the defence during disclosure of evidence' writes Owen Bowcott in the Guardian, but due to changes in charging practices following the dissolution of the state-backed Forensic Science Services (FSS) last year, 'several forensic science companies have recently changed billing practices, demanding up to £800 a day, for example, from experts hired by the defence'. (See also The [Justice] Gap for an analysis of these rising costs by Peter Glenser). This is put succinctly by commenter mschin1: 'You mean that I could be forced to pay for information about my own DNA to prove my innocence? You really couldn't make this up.'

Draft guidance on early deletion of DNA and fingerprint records

The Home Office has issued a consultation on its draft Guidance on early deletion of DNA and fingerprint records set to replace the Exceptional Case Procedure. Deadline for the consultation is 2013-07-29. The guidance will come into effect in October.

First published on 2013-07-22; last updated on 2013-07-23 to add a link to the consultation.

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Wed, 10 Jul 2013

Labelled potential terrorist

Cory Doctorow mentioned my arrest in one of his recent Guardian column on Prism and in some corrections in a Boing Boing post. Cory concludes:

You should care about privacy because if the data says you've done something wrong, then the person reading the data will interpret everything else you do through that light. [...] Once a computer ascribes suspiciousness to someone, everything else in that person's life becomes sinister and inexplicable.

This is why I fought so hard to expunge my records and help fight for other innocents as well.

Quebecois journalist Stéphane Vaillancourt expanded on this theme in Attention! Vos gadgets vous épient sans cesse published on Canoë:

Étiqueté «terroriste potentiel»

Une fois les informations recueillies, il ne reste plus qu'à les jumeler aux données publiques (caméras dans les transports ou lieux publics) et surveiller les comportements jugés suspects, comme l'a appris à ses dépens David Mery, en 2005, alors que la police de Londres était sur les dents, peu de temps après un attentat dans le métro. Le problème, c'est qu'une fois une personne étiquetée « terroriste potentiel », on interprète tout geste, tout acte comme étant suspect. Une fois la personne arrêtée, même si une erreur est admise par la suite, son nom demeure dans les registres pendant un bon bout de temps (9 à 10 ans, dans ce cas-ci), l'empêchant de voyager ou, simplement, de vivre une vie normale.

Si vous n'avez rien à cacher...

Le fameux prétexte voulant que « si vous ne faites rien de mal, vous n'avez alors rien à cacher » est plutôt douteux, à la lumière de l'histoire de David Mery (et probablement de plusieurs autres).

Que dire alors, si l'on suit cette logique, de ceux qui décident de ne pas avoir de compte Facebook? Ceux qui ne publient jamais de photo d'eux ou ne font jamais de «check-in» sur les réseaux sociaux? Est-ce que désirer conserver un peu de vie privée serait devenu un comportement suspect?

Stéphane's last question about whether to strive to retain some privacy is now considered suspicious behaviour has been answered positively in at least two occasions by the German police and the French Home Affair minister as I explained a few years ago in The mobile phone as self-inflicted surveillance – If you don't have one, what have you got to hide?.

Bootnote 1 The travel restrictions mentioned by both Cory and Stéphane are limited to the USA. See Innocent in the UK, unwelcomed in the USA for more details.

Bootnote 2 Two other, even more illogical, labels that have been used as captions in TV interviews: 'Former suspect', 'Mistaken suspect'.

Former suspect

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Thu, 23 May 2013

1,136,000 DNA profiles and 6,341,000 samples gone, but stealth DNA database of everyone being planned

A total of 6,969,396 subject profiles were held on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) at 31 March 2012 according to the NDNAD Annual Report 2011-2012. Allowing for duplication, the number of individuals whose DNA profile were held on the database is estimated at 5,950,612. This includes 1,253,289 innocent individuals ('without a current recorded conviction whose profiles had been added to the National DNA Database by English and Welsh police forces'). This also includes children; new research by the Howard League for Penal Reform has found that officers in England and Wales took swabs from 53,973 boys and girls aged 17 or under just during 2011.

The table below lists how many DNA subject profiles were loaded per year and how many individuals succeeded in getting their DNA profiles deleted following the  'Exceptional Case Procedure' over the past ten years. It clearly shows how easy it is for the police to grow the NDNAD, but how hard it has been for anyone to get off it.

  2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
DNA profiles of individuals added 488,519 475,297 521,118 715,145 722,475 591,029 580,803 540,313 474,193 398,845
DNA profiles deleted (Exceptional Case Procedure) 256 45 53 165 115 162 283 414 503 390
Source: National DNA Database annual report 2011 to 2012, National DNA Database biennial report 2009-2011, National DNA Database annual report 2007-09, Parliamentary written answer 2007-05-10

The DNA and fingerprint provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 are scheduled to commence in October. Before then, DNA profiles of the innocent must be deleted, and most DNA samples destroyed. The profile deletion process is managed by the custodian of the NDNAD, which has been the Home Office since the closure of the National Police Improvement Agency. The physical destruction of the samples is handled by the forensic service provider that did the sequencing. This work was initially slow (see table below), but '[t]here has been significant progress' explained Lord Taylor of Holbeach in the House of Lords:

To date, 1,136,000 DNA profiles belonging to innocent individuals have been deleted from the National DNA Database. Some 6,341,000 DNA samples containing sensitive biological material that are no longer needed as a DNA profile has been obtained have been destroyed.

DNA sample destruction is due to be completed by the end of this month, and DNA profile and fingerprint deletion by the end of September. By the time the Act commences in October, only those convicted of a criminal offence will have their DNA and fingerprints retained indefinitely.

This must be a moment of great relief to all those innocent individuals whose DNA profiles the police were desperately retaining. However, as there was no requirement for a notification mechanism, it is likely no one concerned has been informed. If you have been arrested, your DNA taken and believe your DNA profile should have been deleted, one way to find out is to use the Data Protection Act and send a subject access request to the police force that arrested you (for help, see my short guide: How to obtain personal information which is held by an organisation?)

  2012-03-04 2012-03-19 2013-05-20
DNA profile deletions 504,000 504,000 1,136,000
DNA sample destructions 439,000 453,000 6,341,000
Source:  Ministerial statement 2013-05-20, Parliamentary written answer 2013-03-21, Ministerial statement 2013-03-04

Here are some of the provisions describing what must happen before the coming into force of any provision of Part 1, Chapter 1 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012:

14. (4) A DNA sample to which this section applies must be destroyed—

(a) as soon as a DNA profile has been derived from the sample, or

(b) if sooner, before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the date on which the sample was taken.

25. (2) The Secretary of State must, in particular, provide for the destruction or retention of PACE material taken, or (in the case of a DNA profile) derived from a sample taken, before the commencement day in connection with the investigation of an offence.

25. (3) Such provision must, in particular, ensure—

(a) in the case of material taken or derived 3 years or more before the commencement day from a person who— (i) was arrested for, or charged with, the offence, and (ii) has not been convicted of the offence, the destruction of the material on the coming into force of the order if the offence was a qualifying offence,

(b) in the case of material taken or derived less than 3 years before the commencement day from a person who— (i) was arrested for, or charged with, the offence, and (ii) has not been convicted of the offence, the destruction of the material within the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which the material was taken or derived if the offence was a qualifying offence, and

(c) in the case of material taken or derived before the commencement day from a person who— (i) was arrested for, or charged with, the offence, and (ii) has not been convicted of the offence, the destruction of the material on the coming into force of the order if the offence was an offence other than a qualifying offence.

For a recap of the provision of the Protection of Freedoms Act, see the post Innocents to become less suspect written when the bill was debated, or check out the act.

Stealth DNA database of everyone

In contrast to the positive development of destroying all DNA samples and the DNA profiles of the innocent held on the NDNAD, a new report (pdf) by GeneWatch UK exposes the Government's plan to build a whole population DNA database by stealth:

In April 2013, the Caldicott Committee, including Government Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport, proposed new rules for data-sharing which would allow the Government to build a DNA database of the whole population of England in the NHS by stealth.

The plan is to make NHS medical records and people's genetic information available to commercial companies and to use public-private partnerships to build a system where all private information about every citizen is also accessible to the police, social workers, security services and Government.

In announcing the report, GeneWatch UK director, Dr Helen Wallace said:

Total government surveillance of every citizen and the end of privacy between doctors and their patients are inevitable if a DNA database is built within the NHS. Every adult and their children will be tracked using their DNA, and private healthcare records from the NHS will be sold around the globe. Genes are poor predictors of most diseases in most people and personalised risk assessments will lead to the marketing of fear and medicalisation of vast swathes of the English population. The costs of unnecessary follow-up of misleading risk predictions could bankrupt the NHS and harm the health of vulnerable people.

For more information on the new data sharing powers, check out the presentations from the launch conference of medConfidential. Phil Booth's slides include diagrams that are extremely useful when trying to make sense of the new NHS structure and understand the workings of the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) system used to share data from your GP. The GeneWatch report includes on pp. 33-34 two diagrams from a presentation by Tim Hubbard, Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre that shows the flow of the genomic information. The individual genome sequence is about 3 GB, this will be compared to a reference genome sequence, and the difference –a variant file of about 10 MB– stored in the electronic health record, and from there in the cloud.

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