An autistic teenager with epilepsy won damages on Wednesday from the Metropolitan Police after he was forced into handcuffs and leg restraints during a school trip in what the High Court ruled was an “assault”.
Police used “wholly inappropriate” restraint in their “over-hasty and ill-informed” response after the young man known as ZH, who is now 19, jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed on the 2008 trip to Acton in west London, judge Robert Nelson said.
The High Court awarded the teenager damages of £28,250 for assault and battery, trespass to the person and false imprisonment under the disability discrimination and human rights acts. ZH has severe autism and cannot communicate through speech.
He suffered moderate post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident, which the judge said resulted from ignorance of his condition rather than bad intentions.
“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,” the judge said.
He said police officers had failed to consult the young man’s carers and thus did not understand the consequences of applying force.
“None of them were fully aware of the features of autism, what problems it presented and how it should best be dealt with in a situation such as occurred,” Nelson added.
The police were refused permission to appeal but said they would pursue an application directly with the Court of Appeal.
Counsel for the Met Anne Studd argued after the judgement that its effect was to “lessen the overriding police duty to preserve life and limb”, adding that emergency services should be given “a margin in which they can act without their actions being found to be unlawful”.
(Man in handcuffs by Nomad_Soul via Shutterstock)