Met officers face judge over mentally disabled case

Seven police officers are due to face a senior judge over their handling of a severely autistic child, which lawyers say could have major implications for the rights of the mentally disabled.

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Last year the Metropolitan Police was found to have assaulted, restrained, falsely imprisoned and discriminated against a severely autistic and epileptic 16 year old and ordered to pay £30,000 damages.

The force was also found to have failed to comply with laws protecting the care of the mentally disabled and handicapped and to have subjected the teenager to inhumane and degrading treatment.

The judge in the case, Sir Robert Nelson, described the police response as “over-hasty and ill-informed”.

In the appeal Metropolitan Police Commisioner Sir Bernard Hogan Howe argues that the ruling has repercussions for policing, the ability of officers to use their discretion and how the Mental Capacity Act can limit what officers can and can’t do.

The incident happened at Acton swimming pool in 2008 when the teenager, known only as ZH, while on a school visit to the West London baths, became transfixed by the water and stood by the edge for sometime.

Police were called and without seeking advice from the child’s carers approached and touched him. His frightened reaction was to leap into the pool where he was rescued by lifeguards.

Police officers then placed two set of handcuffs on him and applied leg irons before putting him in the back of a police van.

Liberty and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have joined the legal battle against the Metropolitan Police. This week police will face the second most senior judge in England and Wales.

EHRC argues this case brings into sharp focus efforts which should be made by the police to adapt their practices to the needs of disabled people.