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.
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 Independent Office of Police Conduct (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”.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS ON KAT'S COMPLAINT
Complaint to the Rail Ombudsman
After complaining about the way she was treated to the Rail Ombudsman, instead of being offered compensation, she received the response from Katie Lin, Lead Ombudsman, that as a resolution for the distress and abuse she had suffered, she could do some volunteer work for Virgin Trains to raise awareness and to ‘get back on the trains’ again: "My award is to support an offer made by the RSP (Virgin Trains) for two return first class travel tickets to be used for an opportunity to raise awareness, such as a future Autism Awareness Week (a Virgin Trains Event)".
In response, Kat said, "I do enough volunteer work and I don’t see why I should do work for Virgin after they taunted and harassed me. I also do not want to travel on their trains again as they are unsafe and another autistic woman was recently abused by them (see Sara’s Story here)"
"After the incident, I was very stressed and unwell. I can’t believe that the Ombudsman think the solution is to force me back onto a Virgin train and to make me work as an outcome to my complaint. This shows how little respect disabled people are shown by authorities and quite honestly I am appalled".
Complaint to the IOPC
Subsequently, Kat did submit a formal complaint to the IOPC but after waiting several months for the outcome, the IOPC not only failed to uphold Kat's complaint and deliberately avoided investigating the central complaint that Kat had been asaaulted by use of an illeagal and unwarranted strip search. Instead, the casework manager sidelined Kat's complaint by getting into a discussion about what kind of strip search had been carried out.
BRITISH TRANSPORT POLICE HYPOCRISY TO SAFEGUARDING MENTALLY VULNERABLE ADULTS
Juxtapose BTP's treatment of Kat above with the inflated rhetoric provided below:
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.
“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
Note also the following initiatives that BTP have been publicising and securing significant funding for, including from the NHS: recruiting specialist teams and individuals (including a Head of suicide prevention and mental health), involvement in ‘street triage’ services, and securing excellence awards on the back of all this work. Given all of the initiatives listed below, and given Kat's recent experiences, scrutiny how effectively has all this funding been used.
As far back as 2013 BTP The following is just one example of the further rhetoric used by BTP to give the impression that they are concerned about safeguarding vulnerable people:
“The team … also works with government as contributors and signatories to the new Crisis Care Concordat.
The Concordat is aimed at substantially improving the prevention arrangements and emergency response to
people suffering a mental health crisis. It contains an important action to create multi-agency referral
processes for the vulnerable people that come to police notice. This is a vital issue that we feel passionately
about and one we will wholeheartedly pursue as part of the safeguarding agenda.”
From BTP Annual Report (2013-2014): “Helping vulnerable people in crisis: already making a difference”
See further initiatives linked below:
para 2.1: BTP has formed the Safeguarding and, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health (SPMH) Teams to tackle these issues.
As Kat discovered, those officers who assaulted her in 2018 were clearly unaware of the strategies and training lauded above by BTP. This raises the question of just how effective all this training is.
Autism Injustice calls on the Transport Committee to invite the Chief Constable back to provide an explanation for what happened to Kat—and BTP's subsequent attempts to defend their actions—given all of the claims made above.
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.