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:

[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

[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:

[5] Asperger London Area Group (ALAG): [Updated to new name and URL of ALAG]

[6] Autism: a guide for criminal justice professionals:

[7] Sean Rigg inquest verdict:


[9] NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward:


[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:



[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:

[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:

[16] Transcript of London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21:

[17] MPS press lines:

[18] More on this confusion in Deployments of armed police officers at London’s mental health units:

[19] Police use of taser statistics, England and Wales, 2012 to 2013:





[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:
Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust:
Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust:
East London NHS Foundation Trust:
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust:
West London Mental Health NHS Trust:
South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust:
North East London NHS Foundation Trust:
Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust:
Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust:

[26] Transcript of London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on 2013-11-21:

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