Wed, 14 May 2014
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:
- 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
- I submit this written evidence as an individual having
lived in London for over twenty years.
Autistic behaviour considered suspicious and subsequent unlawful arrest
- 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
- In May 2013 I was diagnosed as being on the autistic
spectrum - of the Asperger’s type, by a clinical neuropsychologist at
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The River House incidents and its cover-up by the NHS and the MPS
- 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’.
- 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’,
i.e., was lost.
- 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:
48 police officers were deployed including six officers from armed
response units, two from dog units, 21 PC from the Territorial Support
and the entire Bromley Borough night response team.
TSG officers entered the mental health ward and four drew their Tasers.
- 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’.
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.’
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.
- 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.
- 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.’
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.’
Again, we have confusion.
- A policy about all deployment
of police to mental health units, preferably based on the words of
Commander Christine Jones, should be published.
- 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
- (b) how many officers from which units entered
mental health wards,
- (c) details of any restraints of patients by
- (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
should be included,
- (e) details of injuries caused to patients, staff
or any other person.
- Any investigation report into
incidents that required police intervention should also be published in
full in a timely manner.
The use of section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 in London
- 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.’
(which is not possible to ask in a Freedom of Information request).
- 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”’
(when the number of s136 detentions for that year was approximately
- 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
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.
- The operation of
Section 136 in London
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.
- Some limited information is available from many sources.
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
- 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
- (j) the number of individuals detained under s136
of the MHA and admitted to hospital in each borough, following an