Chris’ story raises serious concerns about the way the Government’s ‘Prevent Strategy’ has been abused to target autistic people, in Chris’ case without his knowledge or consent. ‘Prevent’ was first rolled out by the Labour Government in 2006 and then revised by the Coalition Government in 2011 with the specific intention of challenging extremist ideology and (under Schedule 6) targeting institutions that it feels are best placed to report those at risk from radicalisation, such as colleges, Local Authorities and NHS Trusts. The Channel programme is that part of Prevent in which the police and other statutory authorities identify what (they consider) appropriate support programmes for individuals (that again, they decide) are vulnerable to radicalisation and direct them for one-to-one mentoring and ‘support’. A concern raised by Chris is whether the police consider all persons with autism as potentially a risk to public safety in this way.
Chris is 51 and his autism went undiagnosed until 2013. Chris is also diagnosed with specific learning difficulty, hearing loss due to Military Service, visual dysfunction, problems associated with cross brain lateralisation, and stress induced hypertension.
Chris moved into his current landlord’s home in 1996. A supportive GP, and Chris’ landlord, a former general and psychiatric trained nurse with an MBE, have been Chris’ only support throughout the traumas and civil litigations that Chris has been involved in since 2006. In the story that follows, Chris and his landlord describe a series of welfare appeals, discrimination cases, and other matters that have led to appearances in the County Court, High Court and Crown Court; testifying to Chris’ courage and resilience in the face of the most appalling mismanagements and deliberate injustices—including from those with responsibility for safeguarding and supporting him. Chris’ landlord describes Chris’ various litigation cases as resulting from, ‘a deck of cards stacked against him, and multiple abuses of process and procedure’.
The first incident happened in 2006, where Chris was set upon by a group of 6 adults in Cornwall, involved Chris being given a caution for criminal damage that he eventually had quashed by the Crown Court in 2011.
In 2010 Chris was advised by a DWP work contractor to re-apply for DLA, following which things began to ‘take an irregular and misleading series of events’. Chris ended up seeing a locum GP who referred him to Social Services. They wrongly assessed Chris as having a learning disability and then referred him on to a third sector organisation for people with a ‘low IQ’. The manager referred Chris back to the Local Authority on it becoming obvious that Chris has a normal to high IQ. Absurdly, Chris was then referred on to the NHS Learning Disability service. Again he was assessed as having a normal to high IQ but also assessed as being autistic with a specific learning ‘difficulty’. They referred Chris back again to Social Services who although Chris clearly meets the Care Act criteria for an adult at risk, no needs assessment or care plan was provided at that time because Chris fell between narrowly prescribed services with strict exclusion criteria, and no support was provided.
In early to mid 2011, Chris was ‘signposted’ to a privately run housing association, Colebrook Housing Society (CHS), a partner agency of Plymouth City Council, who sat on their Safeguarding Adult Board. CHS were also a partner of the Council’s de-radicalisation programme Channel. Chris was then enrolled on a programme under a 2 year contract and in 2012, without any clinical assessment or informing Chris of the re-categorisation, his ‘diagnosis’ was changed to ‘learning difficulties/mental health—vulnerable adult at risk of exploitation from others’.
During the two years Chris was engaged in the scheme operated by the CHS, he says that he was subjected to weekly sessions where he was pressurised to ‘think’ and ‘act’ in a particular way. Chris’ Landlord observed many of these support sessions and personally intervened on several occasions. Chris, although vulnerable and in need of care and support, is an intelligent person who believes in empowering himself and so inevitably his relationship with CHS broke down. He particularly objected to being subjected to Neuro Linguistic Programming without his consent. It was not until 2015 that Chris discovered he was engaged in a covert de-radicalisation programme without his knowledge or consent—of more later.
Around September 2012, Chris made a formal complaint against CHS to the Council and again asked to be referred for a Care Needs Assessment. The Council refused to investigate the complaint against CHS but made a number of concealed referrals for Chris’ to receive care and treatment from various mental health providers. This led to violations of the Data Protection Act being reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office that eventually led to a Housing Benefit appeal in the Upper Tribunal (see below).
In a further convoluted turn of events, Chris was awarded Employment and Support Allowance, only for the DWP to then re-assess Chris without his knowledge or consent as having limited or no capability for work related activity.
Following a claim being made against the Council by Chris’ solicitors in 2014, the Council tried to claim that Chris lacked capacity to manage his own care funding and that Chris’ landlord was not a suitable person to manage the payments. Yet only a year previously, Adult Social Services had supported Chris in entering into a credit agreement with a back-to-work recruitment company to manage his care funding. This was attempted with the intervention of a social worker who amended Chris’ care plan as though it had been worded by Chris himself, and without Chris or his GP’s knowledge or consent. The Care Plan had been worded to make it appear that Chris needed support because he could not stay in control of his actions and represented a danger to the public if support was not in place. Chris’ landlord and GP subsequently provided evidence to the police of what they clearly regarded as acts of fraud and forgery.
In spite of the evidence, the police (also a partner agency of the Council’s anti terrorism/extremism, de-radicalisation programme) refused to investigate the allegations. Chris’ solicitors subsequently advised the Council of what they considered to be unsupported suggestions that Chris lacked capacity to manage a Direct Payment, and misapplication of the Mental Capacity Act obstructing Chris’ access to care services.
In May 2015, the Council wrote to Chris asking him to provide his bank details for an alleged business decision to end payment of Housing Benefit by cheque. Chris served a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on the Council to provide evidence of that decision before providing his bank details. The Council refused to comply, and so Chris refused to supply his bank details. The Council then made a decision to terminate Chris’ Housing Benefit.
Chris appealed this decision. It was dismissed in the First Tier Tribunal in 2016 leaving Chris with a Housing Benefit debt of around £3,000. He further appealed the decision in the Upper Tribunal in 2017 and this time won the case and had his Housing Benefit reinstated. In the same hearing Chris raised the further matter of the data protection violations by the Council. The judge advised Chris to pursue further legal action of these matters against the Council because the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to deal with them.
Further De-radicalisation Abuses
Meanwhile, in May 2016, following the police’s involvement in seizing Chris’s property, Chris raised associated matters with the Police and Crime Commissioner's office. Chris argued that if the police were now nationally targeting people like himself as being at high risk of being drawn into terrorism, this amounted to an act of stereotyping and discrimination and instead of ‘safeguarding the vulnerable’, the police’s model was (illegally) placing them at risk of harm.
It is of note that Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole (NPCC lead on Mental Health & Autism), writing on the National Police Chiefs’ Council website in April 2016, stated: "Prevent is voicing the concerns of people of good conscience. It is stopping people being criminalised, it is safeguarding the vulnerable. It is making us all safer, in a proportionate, thoughtful fashion” (full article here).
In December 2016, Chris wrote directly to the CHS Manager requesting disclosure of the identity of the person who had ‘signposted’ him to their organisation for care assessment and support, and for CHS to provide copies of their polices and procedures relating to the referral of individuals under the aforementioned de-radicalisation programmes. The manager replied that Chris’ enquiry was ‘combative’, although she subsequently had to apologise, following which Chris then served a FOI request on CHS to obtain the information he had requested. In response, CHS instructed their solicitors to prevent Chris from obtaining the information he had requested.
In 2017, Chris attended an Autism Involvement Group meeting run by Devon County Council (DCC) where he wanted to raise awareness of the issues described above. Following that meeting, the Senior Involvement Officer for DCC, wrote to inform Chris that he could not attend any further meetings. And so Chris brought a legal action against DCC for disability discrimination and Human Rights violations, i.e. expelling him from attending the meetings without good reason. As a result of the legal action, in June 2018, DCC agreed to pay Chris an out-of-court settlement and reinstate Chris’ attendance at the Autism Involvement Group meetings, with the reasonable adjustments he had requested.
In February 2018, Plymouth City Council, issued a ‘survey’ to both Chris and his landlord titled, ‘Plymouth City Survey’. The survey was issued by a City Councillor who confirmed that it was jointly funded by the Council and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Chris maintains the view that the true intent of the survey was to deceive the individual invited to answer, and allow intrusive personal and sensitive information to be shared with other agencies, thereby enabling the Council to identify vulnerable people and justify referring them on to the Channel de-radicalisation programme.
Chris emailed the Councillor in question, who only responded following several repeat requests to do so. Chris was able to use the Councillor’s response as evidence before the Judge in his appeal because the Councillor confirmed that the reference number attached both to the survey form and covering letter, identified which address the survey form had been returned from and which Ward it applied to. This meant that the Council was holding the unsolicited details of at around eight thousand households (the number they claimed to have sent their survey to) residing in the Plymouth area, even though the Councillor had claimed in his email to Chris that they could not identify the respondents.
Chris placed this evidence before his MP, the most compelling of which was the Councillor’s own admission that the sole purpose of the data collected was for the Crime Commissioner’s office to identify neighbourhoods and community ‘tensions’ which may then be presented as ‘disaffected’ or feel ‘marginalised’ and ‘resentful’—thereby justifying the Council’s involvement in counter-terrorism policing strategies.
In March 2018, Chris contacted the police South West Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit in an attempt to find out how he had been referred to the Channel programme. A police sergeant at the Unit confirmed that it would have been a police Channel Practitioner who would conduct the assessment and referral, but then re-directed Chris back to the City Council to address the issue of accountability for the referral.
Chris contacted the Council and was sent an email by the Chair of the Plymouth Council’s Channel Panel, confirming that Channel is accountable under regulation to the Home Office Prevent Oversight Board, chaired by the Minister of Immigration and Security. In terms of Chris specific question about his covert inclusion in the programme, the email stated:
“The prevent programme must not involve any covert activity against people or communities. But specified authorities may need to share personal information to ensure, for example, that a person at risk of radicalisation is given appropriate support. Wherever possible the consent of the person concerned should be obtained before sharing any information about them. The default for the panel partners when determining what information can be shared should be to considered seeking the consent of the individual (or their parent/guardian). In some circumstances, consent from the individual will not be sought at this early stage. This will be dependant on the circumstances of the case but may relate to issues such as the health of the individual, law enforcement or protection of the public [our emphasis]”
However, the Channel Panel Chair declined answer any specific questions about the Council or their agents (police, DWP, CHS, NHS, etc.) involvement in Chris’ own case.
Today Chris has no statutory support in place, and hasn’t since 2013. He is still fighting a Jobseeker’s Allowance appeal, appealing a new Housing Benefit decision by the Council, has a County Court claim against the DWP for discrimination, and a Personal Independence Payment appeal currently ‘stayed'. To this day, in spite of his heroic efforts to find out, Chris has never been notified of who, or which agency, signposted him to CHS for assessment.