Police force faces two watchdog probes over treatment of autistic people


A police force has launched an internal review of its treatment of disabled people, after it was forced to refer two separate incidents involving young autistic men to the police watchdog.

One case referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) relates to a young autistic man who was held in a cell for nine hours by Northamptonshire police, after he was the victim of a vicious disability hate crime in a local park last October.

Daniel Smith was only finally able to clear his name after a six-month ordeal which saw him dragged through the criminal justice system by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

He had been left bloodied and bruised after the attack but ended up being prosecuted for assault after the police refused to investigate the hate crime and charged him instead.

He spent nine hours in a police cell, without medical treatment for his injuries, even though he told officers he had only been defending himself against “the bullies”.

He finally managed to clear his name when he was cleared of the assault charges by Corby magistrates in April.

While investigating concerns raised by Daniel and his family, Northants police widened its internal investigation to look at the way it deals with all disabled people, because of concerns over the way it handled an incident involving another young autistic man, Tristan Perry, which took place last August.

The IPCC is already investigating how Perry was treated, after a film was posted on social media which appeared to show police officers shouting at him, before pushing him to the ground, while one of the officers seemed to punch him four times.

Northants police originally denied this week that there was any wider investigation into its treatment of disabled people, but eventually admitted that there was after DNS forwarded an email about the Daniel Smith case written by the assistant to Janette McCormick, the disability lead for the National Police Chiefs Council.

In the email, McCormick’s assistant said the Northants force “have had a similar issue with another young man on the autistic spectrum recently, so are looking at the whole issue of the way police officers in their force handle their approach to this particular disability”.

After his press office was shown this email, superintendent Mark Behan, head of professional standards at Northants police, was forced to issue a new statement, which said: “Northamptonshire police received a complaint in relation to this case in October 2015.

“The force’s professional standards department assessed the incident and, owing to the nature of the complaint, subsequently made a mandatory referral to the IPCC.

“The IPCC is also investigating an incident that took place in Northampton in August last year.

“These investigations are being managed separately by the IPCC and as they are on-going, it would be inappropriate to discuss [them] in more detail at this time.”

But he added: “We are undertaking an internal review of how officers respond to incidents involving people with disabilities to assess how we can enhance the service we provide, which will include acting on any IPCC recommendations should their investigations identify opportunities to improve our service.”

An IPCC spokeswoman said: “The IPCC has decided to independently investigate the actions of Northamptonshire police officers following the arrest and detention of a vulnerable man in October last year.

“The man was arrested following an altercation with two men in Rushden on 17 October 2015, and was subsequently acquitted of assault in April 2016.

“A complaint has been made that officers failed to provide appropriate care to the man following his arrest and during his detention at the Northampton Criminal Justice Centre.

“This includes allegations that the man was refused medical attention for facial injuries, and was not offered an appropriate adult to support him while he was in custody.”

She also said that an IPCC investigation was continuing into allegations that two Northamptonshire police officers used “excessive force and inappropriate language” in dealing with Tristan Perry during an incident in Northampton on 13 August last year.

But she said that any wider investigation was “a matter for Northamptonshire police”.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The members of the Disability Hate Crime Network have been pressing police forces and the CPS for a better approach to cases involving disabled people.

“The case of Daniel and other recent questionable outcomes in courts has caused us to have some serious concerns at the totally unacceptable inconsistencies in prosecution and sentencing.

“We are reviewing some recent cases and will be discussing these with key members of police and CPS to try to ensure that people such as Daniel and in fact with any form of disability receive fair and appropriate justice.”

Meanwhile, Daniel’s father Owen says he has been told that Leicestershire police will be re-examining the failure of Northants police to prosecute the two men who attacked his son in the park.

He is also angry that CPS has so far dismissed his concerns about its decision to prosecute Daniel.

A CPS spokeswoman originally claimed that his complaint had “been concluded”, but after that was questioned by DNS, she has now said that the chief crown prosecutor for the East Midlands, Janine Smith, will be writing to Owen Smith in due course.

The CPS spokeswoman claimed that “comprehensive mandatory training has been provided to prosecutors on handling disability hate crime cases”.

She added: “The CPS carefully reviewed this case and decided there was sufficient evidence to bring the case to court, to allow a court to determine whether an assault took place and whether the defendant was culpable.

“It is not for the CPS to determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect, but to bring cases to court which meet the code for crown prosecutors.

“All cases are kept under constant review as they progress through the criminal justice system.”

23 June 2016

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