Lucy’s mental health problems began in 2001 aged around 15. She received little support from school, home or other services, and started picking up minor convictions for public order issues due to autistic meltdowns being misunderstood when she was in crisis. This included carrying knives for self harm purposes (see Nick’s Story), an ‘assault charge’ from being inappropriately restrained, and a conviction for slamming a door too hard and breaking the handle. At this point Lucy did not have a diagnosis of autism and what support she did get from mental health services was inappropriate. Lucy was first admitted to an adult psychiatric ward aged 17. There she was simply labelled as attention seeking and a ‘naughty child’. She was repeatedly detained in police cells under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
Tragically, and a shocking indictment on the state of autism and mental health services, Lucy sometimes felt so fearful that the she would deliberately commit minor offences to be taken to police custody where she says that she ‘would feel safe for the night’ (see also Bradley’s Story). Lucy’s diagnosis of autism was made in 2006 when she was in her early 20s, yet the doctor who diagnosed her admitted there were no services in the area for autism.
Things settled briefly and Lucy returned to her studies. In 2008, she was still living with her parents when new neighbours moved in and her problems began almost immediately. The neighbour was verbally abusive and made malicious accusations that lead to Lucy self-harming again, cutting and burning her skin. The police refused to attend and no action or support was given, neither were there any independent witnesses to the abuse from the neighbour.
Later, Lucy received a harassment warning from the police for filming the neighbour shouting abuse at her. Police officers even refused to look at the film footage. Lucy was eventually moved to emergency accommodation for her own safety, but was assaulted there also. No action was taken and she was moved on once again.
Around 2011, Lucy was settled in accommodation, until the flat upstairs was occupied by a man who was extremely noisy throughout the night, often until 6am, and became abusive when challenged. The housing officer refused to believe or support Lucy and eventually labelled her for being a nuisance, ‘disruptive’, and 'attention seeking’, telling her she had to ‘learn to live in the community’.
Lucy was trying to learn to drive and get back into work at the time and also trying to function on hardly any sleep. But her mental health continued to deteriorate resulting in multiple hospital admissions for serious self injury, so severe that at one point the police broke her door in thinking that she had taken her own life.
Lucy has sensory issues that result in a heightened sensitivity to noise. One day, having reached crisis point, Lucy smashed the neighbour’s car windows after he had kept her awake all night. She did this out of desperation hoping she’d be arrested and could get some sleep in the cells. She was willing to plead guilty and paid for the damage, but what kind of an endorsement is it on the state the Country’s mental health and autism services that such a vulnerable young woman has to go to such lengths to get any kind of relief from her torment.
A biased and distorted version of the story was reported in a local paper that resulted in Lucy being further abused by social media. In 2016, the Local Authority, instead of dealing with the noisy neighbour, forced Lucy to move to what is now her current address. After an initial promise of support by the Housing Department, no such support was forthcoming although Lucy did have some patchy support from a social worker who was not replaced when she left. Things deteriorated quickly again. This time Lucy was tormented by a neighbour’s dog which was allowed to run into other people’s houses and gardens.
Lucy’s new home was in a small village where she was persecuted by the local community and social media. Local residents even formed a group to try and hound Lucy from the area; including verbal abuse, damage to property, and making malicious complaints. After Lucy installed CCTV for her own protection, the residents group wrote a letter to the local primary school accusing her of filming children. Lucy says that she is routinely referred to as ‘the village idiot’ and a ‘cancer in the community’. She has offered to speak to local residents and discuss mediation to try to find a compromise but these have been ignored.
Lucy made multiple statements to the police reporting disability hate crimes and kept logs of incidents. These were ignored by the police who described them as petty. She has also complained to the County Council, the Parish Council, contacted her MP, Robert Buckland (the Solicitor General), Shelter, and independent advocates. She has been ignored by the Local Authority Safeguarding Team, and the Local Housing Officer insists that she has no evidence to support any of her allegations. Lucy’s impression from the Housing Department is that a degree of bullying in social housing is to be expected and accepted. Lucy became a virtual prisoner in her own home to the point that her parents had to drive over to her house daily to support her.
Eventually Lucy’s situation resulted in a confrontation between herself and seven local residents that resulted in a severe meltdown where she drank antifreeze and tried to harm herself. Lucy kept an extendable, police style baton in her home to defend herself if she was attacked and was later charged with threatening a neighbour and her dog with the baton, but as the confrontation took place in her own garden she disputes that she was carrying a weapon in a public place. As she was forced to disable her CCTV, she has no independent evidence to challenge the charges made against her.
On being apprehended by the police, Lucy panicked when she couldn’t find her autism alert card and had to be taken to Accident & Emergency after being tasered by police. Lucy further panicked after being left alone in A & E without her autism card and tried to leave, tripping and fracturing her ankle in the process. Before the orthopaedic consultant had even seen her, police officers showed up at the hospital, telling her that what had happened to her ‘serves you right’. They then proceeded to try to question her about alleged offences she knew nothing about. And all this while she was alone and in pain in hospital.
Lucy was admitted for 10 days to have her ankle pinned but within hours of her discharge, local residents where again complaining that she’d been allowed home. She spent the following four months housebound being daily persecuted by her neighbours. Police and Council workers have failed to safeguard her or offer any support, telling her that local residents are unlikely to cause her physical harm. It would seem that Swindon public services are not aware of their responsibilities for responding to disability hate crime.
Following these incidents and unsubstantiated allegations made by local residents, to add to charges being pursued by the police, the Council served Lucy with a repossession order. The subsequent court case is ongoing and Lucy is being urged to plead guilty even though she is adamant that she has not broken the law.
The rest of this story is told in Lucy’s own words:
‘This case is ongoing, just beginning in fact, I’m struggling to find people who are truly knowledgeable about autism spectrum conditions, the only local charity refused to get involved due the sensitive nature of the charges and [the Housing Officer] seems to poison everyone else against me. I’m trying to pursue complaints but it’s soul destroying at the best of times, even more so when exhausted. … My heart says stand and fight for what’s right, but truthfully I’m beyond burnt out and I’m not sure I want any part of a world where people can make up whatever they like about me and be believed. I’m honestly not the dangerous monster I’m being painted as, I’m just trying to survive, and it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to not have the ability to challenge such hideous assumptions. I’m well aware that my disability is my responsibility and 99% of the time I bumble along just fine, I’m not the kind of person who wants to ‘get away’ with stuff, if I’ve messed up and lost control then I expect to be held accountable but I expect the same of other people, naively perhaps. Incidents only happen when Im persistently put under huge stress, without adequate support or the ability to use my coping strategies effectively (I don’t think its a big ask to need to sleep at night or leave my house safely in all honesty).’
Lucy’s story follows a typical pattern for many autistic people who come into contact with the police and public officials. Instead of providing the support and safeguarding functions that is their statutory responsibility—particularly to those who are victims of disability hate crimes (see Daniel's Story)—autistic individuals continue to be criminalised.