The National Autistic Society (NAS) has called for autism training to be provided as standard in police training, in the wake of a High Court ruling that the Metropolitan Police breached a young person with severe autism’s human rights after forcing him into handcuffs and leg restraints during a school trip.
The High Court judge, Sir Robert Nelson, found that Metropolitan Police officers subjected the young person, then 16 years old, who has autism, learning disabilities and epilepsy to assault and battery, unlawful disability discrimination, false imprisonment and multiple breaches of the Human Rights Act by forcing him into handcuffs and leg restraints. The incident occurred during a school trip to Acton Swimming Baths in West London on September 23, 2008, after the young person, known only as ZH, who cannot communicate with speech, jumped into the pool fully clothed. While he was lifted out of the pool by lifeguards, the police, without consulting with his carers, took hold of his arms before handcuffs and leg restraints were applied. By then agitated and distressed, ZH was placed in a cage in the rear of a police van until calmed by carers and allowed to leave with them.
ZH, who was said to suffered moderate post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident, was awarded £28,250 in damages. The judge refused the Metropolitan Police permission to appeal, although counsel for the Met Commissioner said the application would be pursued with the Court of Appeal.
Nelson said: "The case highlights the need for there to be an awareness of the disability of autism within the public services. It is to be hoped that this sad case will help bring that about." Jane Vaughan, director of education at the NAS said: “This judgement confirms that in this case the police lacked the understanding and flexibility needed to adapt to a person’s autism and subjected a vulnerable young person to inhuman and degrading treatment. “Autism training is not routinely provided as part of police training in the UK despite the fact that the condition affects 1 in 100 people. “People with disabilities look to the police to protect them and it’s vital that their needs and behaviours are understood and accounted for. Autism training should be standard in officer training to ensure that policemen and women understand the needs of this section of society thereby ensuring that disturbing cases like this never happen again.”