Kat's Story

Kat's Story













In 2018, Kat was arrested, strip searched and charged with obstruction of a rail carriage. Her crime: using a Virgin train toilet.


As with Sam’s Story, autistic behaviours arising from Kat’s heightened anxiety, sensory overload and stimming on a train, were misinterpreted and then misrepresented by British Transport Police (BTP) as criminal, with the catastrophic consequences that resulted.


On the 6th March 2018, Kat had boarded the last Virgin train (the 23:30) out of Euston and went to the toilet. The next thing she knew there was a banging on the toilet door and a BTP officer was telling her, “You need to hop off the train.” Confused by what was happening—why should she hop off the train?—Kat’s first thought was, if she did get off the train, she would have been stranded in London late at night with nowhere to stay.


She tried to explain that she was using the toilet and was a legitimate passenger but the police continued to harass her and demand she get off the train. When they asked Kat if she had a valid ticket, she told them that she did have a return ticket (this was subsequently provided to the police by Kat's solicitor) but if it was the wrong one she would be more than happy to buy another. She even offered to put her credit card under the door and explained that she was trying to use the toilet. She asked for more time, after which she would be happy to discuss the problem. She explained that she was very anxious and needed to get home.


The police continued to insist Kat get off the train, refusing to listen to her pleas that she needed to get home and could not be stranded in London. They also ignored the fact that she was confused and upset by what was happening, making things worse by telling her that the train would not move until she got off and that other passengers were getting upset because they wanted the train to depart. When Kat asked why they were insisting she get off the train, a woman police officer said it was because she did not have a valid ticket, even though she did. BTP officers' then switched their justification for treating Kat in the manner they did, from suspecting her of fare-dodging to behaving in a 'strange' manner (see further below).


At this point Kat started to panic, but the police made matters worse by allowing a message to go out over the trains loudspeaker that there was, “a difficult passenger on the train.” Kat explained that she suffered with anxiety and asked to speak to a train manager. 


Watch Kat telling her own story here


Eventually, Kat agreed to come out of the toilet because a woman police officer started speaking to her like, “a human being”. But on leaving the toilet she was immediately arrested, handcuffed, and removed from the train, even though she was not resisting in any way. Later statements by BTP officers claimed Kat was being obstructive.


She was told by the Custody Sergeant at Brewery Road police station that she was acting in a strange way. At this point it seems clear that the officers involved had no idea about autism, making the assumption instead, that Kat was on drugs and ordering that she be strip-searched in spite of the custody nurse making it clear to BTP officers that Kat showed no signs of being intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol—but that for this reason she was fit to be interviewed. Neither was anything incriminating found in Kat’s bag. And yet the officer considered her behaviour so strange that he insisted on a strip-search even though Kat refused to give consent. 


Kat describes having her clothes ripped off her one by one and fingers inside her poking around. Half way through the strip search a male officer entered the room and just stood there staring at her. Kat describes feeling violated and traumatised by the incident. Following the strip search, Kat was placed in a cell until around 4pm awaiting interview. This went ahead without the presence of the duty solicitor because Kat was fed up waiting—the solicitor should have been there by 3am. She was eventually released around 5am and caught the next available train back to Coventry.


On her return to Coventry, Kat contacted the Emergency Mental Health Team as she was in sensory overload, having been traumatised and assaulted in the manner she was. Kat was not able to recover from the trauma, and not properly supported at work. She eventually had to take a more junior position from the one she had previously held as a Care Commissioning Officer in the local NHS Trust.


     "My career was progressing well, having held some key roles in commissioning, programme management

     and policy but this incident has cost me as I've had to take a lower level role and now I'm having to take a

     break altogether to recuperate."


Kat heard nothing for months following the incident but was then contacted and informed she was being charged with Sec. 36 of the Malicious Damages Act for obstruction of a rail carriage—carrying a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. 


Kat subsequently spent thousands of pounds on lawyers and travelling up and down to London five times to attend various court hearings. She was initially made to attend Westminster Magistrates Court where she was persuaded by a duty solicitor to plead guilty. She defied both her own counsel and the judge, saying that she was not guilty and wanted the case referred to the Crown Court. The judge became very irritated and forced her to leave the room for 10 minutes to reconsider, saying that she would likely get a much harsher sentence at the Crown Court unless she accepted the guilty plea. 


At Hendon Magistrates Court, Kat was charged under the Malicious Damages Act, given a conditional discharge, and ordered to pay £1,500 compensation to the rail company, including costs, for causing the train to be delayed. But she now also had a criminal record. Kat admits that the only positive thing to arise from these events is that she now has a formal diagnosis of autism and can access some of the support she needs. At the end of the first video, Kat says that she intends to appeal the sentence and represent herself in the process. 


On Thursday 7th March 2019, Kat won her appeal against BTP in the Crown Court representing herself in court with the support of a 'McKenzie Friend’, Olivia. Watch Kat discussing the Court proceedings here. The judge upheld Kat’s appeal after the prosecution case was closed without even inviting Kat to give her defence—such were the absurdities of the case. 


Just two of these were as follows: a) that a BTP witness claimed that Kat had ran through a barrier and locked herself in the toilet—yet under cross-examination from Kat, the witness had to admit to the Court that there was no barrier, and b) when the Crown Prosecutor asked one of the BTP witnesses whether it was, “unusual for someone to lock the door of the train toilet behind them”, the answer was (of course) no. As Kat concluded, “therefore this accusation that I locked myself in a toilet is utterly ridiculous.” CCTV footage submitted by the BTP simply shows Kat boarding the train in the normal way—although further footage does show her later being handcuffed in a way that the Court concluded was inappropriate and unnecessary.


Following the incident, Kat submitted a formal complaint to BTP about her arrest, detention and subsequent strip search. Her complaint to BTP was not upheld and they are now attempting to block Kat from appealing the outcome of the Complaint Investigation Report via the IOPC—insisting that it is handled internally. Given the comments below, it is not difficult to understand why Kat has no confidence in BTP further handling her complaint, because in spite of the Crown Court upholding Kat’s appeal, BTP continue to justify their treatment of Kat with alarming comments such as: 


     "[Kat] said that she was a civil servant, and therefore the way she presented seemed as though she may

     have been under the influence of a substance that may have altered her judgement"


     "I suspected the behaviour of the detainee to be strange"


     "I was concerned for her Mental Health. Therefore I ordered the detainee to be strip searched"


Are we to take it from BTP's comments that all public servants who have a disability, or exhibit ’strange’ behaviour, are at risk of the police assuming they are intoxicated and subjecting them to a strip search? Even more alarming, is the admission by BTP that strip searching someone is a legitimate response to being concerned about someone’s mental health? Has it not occurred to BTP that strip searching someone, particularly if they are mentally vulnerable and already in distress, is likely to exacerbate mental health problems? There are some serious questions to be asked here about the discrimination of mentally vulnerable people.


In her first video, Kat expresses the desire that BTP and rail staff will now receive training in autism. Yet on cross-examination Kat discovered that, “the British Transport Police … don’t have any training for autism or mental health.  […] I feel that what happened to me and the nightmare of the past twelve months could have been avoided had that training been given”.


Yet on on 16 January 2017, more than two years before Kat’s appeal, the Deputy Chief Constable of BTP, Adrian Hanstock, and Chief Executive of the British Transport Police Authority (BTPA), Charlotte Vitty, were giving evidence to the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee, about undertakings given to the Committee by the Chief Constable two years earlier (2015), to strengthen and reassess BTP’s safeguarding capabilities of mentally vulnerable rail passengers. 


The full Committee hearing can be viewed here


There is now a culture of safeguarding in the transport police force.


BTP Deputy Chief Constable, Adrian Hanstock, January 2017


So are we to take it from the following assurances given to the Transport Committee in 2017 that these chief officers were lying, poorly informed, or simply that in spite of all their good intentions they have failed to change the culture of BTP described above by the Deputy Chief Constable? Here are his further assurances to the Transport Committee:


     “When we intervene, our primary approach is to be concerned. It is not about simply removing a problem; it

     is very much about promoting and supporting welfare, safety and wellbeing. We have a whole focus in our

     training and a completely new strategy on safeguarding, to ensure that the whole approach is what I guess

     you would describe as kindness and compassion to people who find themselves vulnerable, whether they are

     children or people with suicidal tendencies or mental ill health [our emphasis], homelessness or substance

     abuse issues.”


And in response to a specific question from the Committee Chair:


     “How do you address autism? Do you have a policy to deal with that?” DCC Hanstock response includes the following reassurances: 


     “In our training and our policy, we very much follow the National Autistic Society’s guidance to professionals

     in the criminal justice system. Exactly as I said, we expect officers and staff to look for and be aware of

     people at risk and to show concern.”


And in response to the following further assurance from DCC Hanstock: 


     “For the workforce, we have extended our probationary training for our new recruits by two extra weeks, in

     which they look at all the specifics of safeguarding, risk and harm and their special role when they are out

     and about on the network


the Committee Chair asks: “Is it an ongoing policy area?” DCC Hanstock responds as follows: 


     “Yes, very much so. We have published our safeguarding strategy and our ‘From Crisis to Care’ strategy. We

     have made clear all our activities to support people with autism, in particular, and other mental ill health

     issues. We sign up to local authority concordats and are a signatory to the national concordat on mental

     health.”


When the Chair asks BTPA’s Chief Executive, Charlotte Vitty, what the BTPA has done to change things, she gets the following reply:


     “We helped to drive through the fact that we needed to deliver a strategy. The force wrote the strategy for

     safeguarding. We supported them in rolling it out and how it was then governed through performance

     indicators, to look at where we are doing well and where the force should focus moving forward. That is the

     challenge process that happens every quarter.”


As Kat discovered above, those officers who assaulted her in 2018 were clearly unaware of the strategies and training lauded above by BTP, and so Autism Injustice calls on the Transport Committee to invite the Chief Constable back to provide an explanation as to why all the work they claim to be doing to safeguard mentally vulnerable people on trains has not been translated into action.


Watch here issues relating to autistic rail passengers and BTP being raised in Parliamentary Debate on Autism, 21st Mar 2019


As a final note regarding sensory overload and stimming on trains, the National Autistic Society produced this training video in 2018. We urge that it becomes compulsory viewing for all BTP officers and rail staff.