Concerns have been raised about the Metropolitan police’s reluctance to seek advice from its disabled advisers, following a high court case which led to a teenager with autism winning nearly £30,000 in damages.
The disabled teenager was assaulted by seven Metropolitan police officers and forced into handcuffs and leg restraints during a school trip to a swimming-pool in September 2008.
The judge, Sir Robert Nelson, found that the boy, Josh*, was subjected to false imprisonment, disability discrimination and multiple breaches of his human rights, including inhuman or degrading treatment.
Only two weeks ago, a review by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that police forces and other public bodies were frequently breaching the human rights of disabled people.
Josh, who has autism and was 16 years old at the time of the incident, had been visiting the pool in west London with four classmates and teaching staff, to familiarise themselves with the facilities.
But one of the pool staff called police when Josh became fixated with the water and could not be persuaded to leave the side of the pool.
When the first officers arrived they tried to grab him and he jumped into the pool fully-clothed.
He continued to show no signs of aggression, the court heard, but after he was pulled out of the pool by lifeguards, five officers held him on the ground, while another two put him into handcuffs and leg restraints.
He was placed in a cage in the back of a police van, still in handcuffs, leg restraints and soaking wet, and in a “very agitated and distressed” state.
As a result of the incident, the frequency of his epileptic seizures increased, and he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sir Robert found that the police officers had assaulted Josh, falsely imprisoned him, and breached the Disability Discrimination Act, even though they were “in general well intentioned”.
He also found that they breached Josh’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, by subjecting him to inhuman or degrading treatment, depriving him of his liberty and breaching his right to a private life.
The judge awarded Josh £28,250 in compensation.
Sir Robert said the officers’ actions had been “over-hasty and ill-informed”, and had “escalated to the point where a wholly inappropriate restraint of an epileptic autistic boy took place”, while they failed to take the advice of staff from Josh’s school about his autism.
He said the case showed the need for “an awareness of the disability of autism within the public services”.
The Metropolitan police have so far refused to apologise to Josh, or his family.
Anne Novis, a disabled activist and member of the Met’s Disability Independent Advisory Group (DIAG), said DIAG members were not asked for advice in the wake of the incident in 2008.
She also raised concerns that disability issues had fallen “off the agenda” in the Met. She has been consulted only two or three times in the last 18 months. In previous years she would be consulted “almost daily”.
A Met spokeswoman said it took disability issues “very seriously” and consulted DIAG “whenever and as often as it is appropriate to do so”.
She said: “They play a valuable role in informing our policies and practices in this area.”
Josh’s father said: “I hope this judgment means that disabled people can expect to receive more humane treatment from Metropolitan police officers than my son did.
“Sadly this seems impossible while the commissioner [Bernard Hogan-Howe] is still trying to justify this ill-treatment and refusing to provide training or an apology.”
A Met spokesman said: “We will be seeking legal advice, and take forward any learning as appropriate. We are making an application for leave to appeal against the judgement.”
*Not his real name
15 March 2012