Relatives of Faruk Ali say that he was attacked as he helped to return bins to the front of his own and his neighbours’ homes, as he did every Thursday morning.
The two police officers later claimed they thought that Ali, who has autism and learning difficulties, was attempting a “robbery”, even though he was wearing his slippers and was apparently just standing by a wheelie-bin.
One person who witnessed the incident – but who asked not to be named – told Disability News Service (DNS) what he had seen as he walked past the house on his way to work.
He said: “All he was doing was standing next to the bin. He wasn’t posing any threat. The passenger [in the police car] got out and didn’t even introduce himself.
“All he did was he looked at him and he grabbed him by the neck and hauled him to the floor. Faruk screamed and called out for his mum. He dragged [Faruk] across three or four bins.”
After one of Faruk’s brothers came out of the house and shouted that his brother had a “mental disability”, the officer let go of him, and Faruk ran into the house, but the two officers chased after him.
The incident on the morning of 20 February was witnessed by neighbours, while members of Faruk’s family saw the alleged assault continue inside the house, where they say one of the officers punched Faruk.
The alleged attack has caused such anger in the community that Faruk’s family organised a public meeting at a Luton community centre this week.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, with many furious that the two officers had been placed on “restricted duties” but had not been suspended.
The allegations are being investigated by Bedfordshire police, although the case is being “overseen” by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Asked by DNS after the meeting whether he believed the two officers should have been suspended, Olly Martins, the police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire, said that members of the family and the public had “asked some valid questions about the force’s thought processes”, and that he would bring the issue up with chief constable Colette Paul.
When one member of the public asked during the meeting if the two officers should be suspended, nearly every person in the room put a hand up.
Luton’s director of adult social care Pam Garraway confirmed that the incident was being treated as a “safeguarding alert” by social services.
Nigel Trippett , assistant chief constable for Bedfordshire police, told the meeting that the incident had given the force “cause for concern” about the disability equality training received by its officers, and whether they were “fully up to speed”, so he had asked the College of Policing to review its training “around vulnerability and disability awareness”.
Trippett also admitted that the two officers had not reported the incident to their superiors until “a while afterwards”.
He added: “They are going to have to answer for their actions.”
He also said that the two officers had realised that Faruk was “vulnerable” and it was that recognition that had “instigated their conduct”.
Trippett said: “We deal with thousands of vulnerable people in our interactions. The vast majority pass without incident and complaint. Unfortunately, we get things wrong.
“We recognise the hurt and pain and anger of the community.”
The meeting also heard that Faruk was the victim of a similar incident involving the police in 2012.
A member of the public had apparently told police on that occasion that Faruk “looked suspicious”, and when officers attempted to restrain him he had tried to run away.
Faruk’s brother Kodor told DNS: “The police used force to restrain him and cuffed him. He wet himself and soiled himself and only then did they think this guy [was disabled], even though there was a large crowd saying: ‘This guy is disabled.'”
The force did not uphold an official complaint about that incident, although the force agreed to place a marker on its system to alert officers to Faruk’s impairment, and told the family he should carry a red “autism alert” badge.
Faruk was apparently wearing this badge during last month’s incident.
Some of those at the community centre had also attended a public meeting last November in the wake of the death of Leon Briggs, who died on 4 November after he was restrained by police officers, detained under the Mental Health Act, and taken to Luton police station.
Several of those at the meeting angrily denounced Bedfordshire police, and said they did not trust the force to investigate its own officers.
Kodor said afterwards that he had been happy with the number of people who attended the meeting, but he added: “I wasn’t happy with some of the responses from the police. I think they avoided some of the questions.”
He said the fact that his brother had been assaulted twice by police meant that this could happen to other disabled people as well.
“It could happen to a lot of other people. How many of these cases go unreported?”
Faruk’s brother Dhobir had told DNS earlier how he had been upstairs in the family home on 20 February when he heard noises downstairs.
He said: “I heard shouts and screaming and I came running down and I saw my brother coming through the house and behind him were the two officers.”
Dhobir said the attack was “disgraceful and appalling” and that he believed his brother had been the victim of a disability hate crime.
Faruk’s parents have been left “absolutely distraught, confused and angry”, and say their faith in the police has been left “shattered”, while they believe their son had been “targeted for his disability and his ethnicity”.
Faruk has been left so terrified that he finds it difficult to leave the house and cannot sleep at night.
Attiq Malik, the family’s solicitor, said the family wanted to see the officers suspended and eventually dismissed, an admission of “misconduct” by the force, improvements to procedures, and a criminal prosecution “if they have done what they are alleged to have done”.
6 March 2014