Sussex Police Handcuffed Disabled Girl Finds IPCC
An 11-year-old girl with a neurological disability was handcuffed and put in leg restraints while being held in custody, the police watchdog has found.
The girl was detained for a total of 60 hours without an appropriate adult by Sussex Police.
A number of officers and staff members had a case to answer for misconduct, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.
Sussex Police said it would respond to any “new learning” identified.
The girl, named Child H in the IPCC’s report, was arrested three times and detained under the Mental Health Act once between 2 February and 2 March 2012.
Her disability had not been diagnosed at the time of the police contact, but her mother had told officers she believed she had an autism spectrum disorder.
Despite this, the IPCC found she was twice held overnight in police cells, without a parent, guardian or social worker present to support her.
She was also restrained using a mesh anti-spit hood, handcuffs and leg straps.
- A custody sergeant and an inspector, who failed to ensure an appropriate adult was present, have since retired
- The force took “management action” against six custody sergeants found to have failed to ensure an appropriate adult was present
- Another custody sergeant found to have failed to ensure Child H was dealt with quickly was disciplined, along with two police constables who restrained the girl in handcuffs
- No further action was taken against a former front desk enquiry officer, a call handler and a police constable
On a number of occasions, officers did not record any rationale for their use of force on the youngster, who has “a neurological disability which can cause challenging behaviour”, inspectors said.
Her mother, known as Ms H, said in a statement through her solicitors: “My daughter’s contact with the police in 2012 was nothing short of a nightmare for both of us.
“At the time her disability meant that she could behave in very challenging ways, but what she needed was patience, respect and the support of her mother.
“Instead she was locked up in a police station without me or anyone else who knew her for support.
“I know that some of the officers were doing their best, but I cannot understand why others thought it was appropriate to put an 11-year-old girl in handcuffs and leg restraints.
“I can’t accept that it will ever be appropriate for the police to hood a disabled child, regardless of how they behave.
“I call on Sussex Police to stop doing this to children immediately.”
The watchdog made a number of recommendations after its investigation, including:
• Improved training on the use of force on children and adults with mental illness, to ensure the use of force is avoided wherever possible
• Additional training on detaining vulnerable people and the role of an appropriate adult
• Ensuring officers are accountable for their use of force
IPCC Commissioner Jennifer Izekor said: “This was a complex investigation, which found Sussex Police officers failed to respond effectively to the needs of a vulnerable child.
“While it is clear Child H had significant behavioural problems arising from her disability, Sussex Police and, indeed other agencies which were – or should have been – involved, did not appear to have the skills and capacity to respond to her effectively. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of understanding of Child H’s complex needs.”
Ms Izekor added she was pleased the force had engaged with Child H’s family to improve any future dealings with her after the IPCC launched its investigation.
The force’s temporary Deputy Chief Constable, Robin Smith, said: “As a chief officer I have a duty to protect officers and the public when we are called on for help, whether the threat comes from a child or someone who is unwell.
“This is very often the case and it was on several occasions that the girl’s mother called for our help.
“The application of any type of restraint is considered only when the level of resistance causes concern for the safety of the detained person, the officer and other members of the public.”