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February 15th 2019

Civil Liberties

Many lessons for police to learn after criticism for wrongfully handcuffing man with Asperger Syndrome

Many lessons for police to learn after criticism for wrongfully handcuffing man with Asperger Syndrome

Hudgell Solicitors believe lessons must now be learned following the conclusion of a legal case in which police officers were criticised for wrongfully handcuffing and detaining a man with Asperger Syndrome ‘for his own safety’.

Hudgell Solicitors believe lessons must now be learned following the conclusion of a legal case in which police officers were criticised for wrongfully handcuffing and detaining a man with Asperger Syndrome ‘for his own safety’.

West Yorkshire Police has agreed an out-of-court damages settlement with 39-year-old James Henderson after he was represented by our civil liberties and human rights specialists.

It comes after a long-running dispute over the nature of his behaviour when handcuffed and detained by officers, and after bodycam footage from the incident was deleted by the force before it could be independently reviewed.

The incident happened when police were called to Westborne Road in Huddersfield, by a woman who was concerned by a man walking behind her and her friend, ‘shouting about random things’.

She told officers when they arrived at the scene that although she had felt threatened due to his erratic behaviour, she had made her call as she was more concerned for the man’s own welfare, and did not want to report any offence.

Despite being given this information, and no offence having taken place, Mr Henderson was then ‘almost immediately handcuffed’ and put in the back of a police van.

‘A truly frightening experience’

Even when offering a damages settlement, the force claimed the actions a female officer, who handcuffed Mr Henderson, had been justified to ‘ensure his own safety and that of other members of the public’.

The force claimed she ‘felt threatened’ by his ‘aggressive’ behaviour. However, Mr Henderson insists he was not aggressive, and he has been left angry that video footage was not retained by the force to show this.

“What the police have said about my behaviour has conflicted from day one to this day,” Mr Henderson said.

“They said I was aggressive, and still claim they felt I was a threat, yet I was not arrested as I had not committed any crime, and they then deleted the video footage as they said it was not of significance.

“How can video footage of somebody who they claim was abusive and threatening, and somebody they have handcuffed, not be evidential or important?”

“This was a truly frightening experience all round for me and it ended up as my word against theirs because they, for whatever reason, deleted the video footage.

“They have claimed I was being aggressive and threatening, but then they haven’t arrested me for a public order offence and there was no mention of physical threat in the officers’ statements in the days afterwards. As soon as I made a complaint their story changed.

“If I was so aggressive and threatening, surely they would have retained video footage to justify detaining me and handcuffing me.

“All I knew was the police had arrived, handcuffed me and put me in the back of the van. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but I didn’t know what was happening.

“I had not been aggressive at all. The officer just came at me brandishing a pair of handcuffs. There was no attempt at a discussion or to say they were concerned for my welfare.

“I’ve decided to speak out as I believe the police have taken a damage limitation approach on this as soon as I made my complaint, particularly given I have Asperger. I don’t want to allow that.

“They have tried to make out that they were doing me some kind of favour by handcuffing me, when that was not the case at all.

“Did the officer ever question whether she had the power to handcuff me or did she simply not care? It all seems to me like doing their best to justify going beyond their powers and covering up for their mistakes by putting the blame on me.”

Appeal to IOPC found police officers had acted wrongly and video should have been saved

His complaints having being dismissed by West Yorkshire Police, Mr Henderson appealed the findings, which were upheld by The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

The IOPC found officers should not have handcuffed him, had wrongfully detained him by taking him home in the police van against his will, and should have retained video footage for review.

It said that despite having information from the woman who called about Mr Henderson that she was mainly concerned for his safety, he was ‘handcuffed almost immediately’ by the female officer who made ‘little attempt to de-escalate the situation’.

The IOPC also criticised officers for failing to adapt their approach to Mr Henderson given one of them also already knew of him and that he had Asperger Syndrome, a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.

The watchdog also highlighted that the officers made no reference to Mr Henderson having shown any signs of physical aggression when recording their statements relating to the incident.

In its conclusion, the IOPC said there was no evidence of the officers considering Mr Henderson’s capacity to decide what was best for himself, and were unjustified in taking the decision to take him home.

Lessons must be learned and bodycam use must be more effective, say solicitors

Samantha Thompson, of Hudgell Solicitors, represented Mr Henderson in his case, and says lessons must be learned.

She said: “The situation was clearly handled badly and misjudged by the officers involved on the night. There was a clear lack of understanding of how to deal with Mr Henderson appropriately. People with Asperger and autism can be highly sensitive to touch and handcuffing is likely to be distressing, but this was not considered at any stage.

“It was highly concerning that given their actions on the night, officers did not consider the body worn footage to be evidential, and so it was destroyed.

“As lawyers who represent people who feel they have been the victims of unfair police treatment, we see far too much inconsistency over the use of bodycams across many forces when they can provide clear, indisputable evidence if used under clear and strict protocols.

“Finally, it is very disappointing to have a case where a force has completely rejected all complaints made by a member of the public, only to see them all overturned by an independent watchdog after appeal.

“That does not give confidence to people that their concerns will be fairly considered when challenging the actions of police officers.”

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