Marcus Potter was diagnosed with autism aged three. By the age of 15, Marcus had also developed Crohn's disease from the stress of constant bullying in school. Now aged 22 (as of July 2019), Marcus has previously had an obsession with filming the police, something that has led to numerous arrests, two consecutive Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs), and a number of appearances in court. On November 16th 2017, on his way to a Job Centre appointment, on passing the Bethel Street police station in Norwich, Marcus reportedly stuck two fingers up at the police. He was arrested at his home the next day, and whilst in prison, on November 22nd 2017 Marcus was also convicted for a section 5 Public Order Act offence in Lowestoft, that had supposedly taken place in August 2017.
But Marcus did not always have issues with the police. One of his psychiatrists noted Marcus as reporting, "I did like the police ... they've mostly been kind to me." But all this changed after a series of incidents involving the police that brought back the trauma of being bullied in school. Marcus became so upset and angry at the way the police were treating him that he started filming them to get evidence about the way he was being treated. His rationale was that if police can use surveillance cameras to catch the public behaving badly, why can't he do the same to them? Marcus is highly intelligent and has developed a strong knowledge of the law. This his how he has described his fixation (something completely in keeping with autistic behaviour) with the police:
"I have a massive grudge with the police ... it results in me getting locked up ... I don't like spending time in the cells but I have difficulty keeping a lid on my red mist ... I have a fascination with the police ... a negative one yes."
Marcus was at home alone when the police called, arrested him, and took him to Court where—not surprisingly—Marcus unsuccessfully tried to represent himself and was then taken to the local prison, HMP Norwich. The family was NEVER informed by police of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment until a considerable time later. Police officers would have been very aware of Marcus' diagnosis of autism as it was on his existing police records.
This pattern of behaviour has been repeated by the police in too many of the cases reported on this site. It represents systemic failures of policing which are unlawful and discriminatory and should be urgently addressed by the Home Office. SEE NOTES ON PACE AND AAs AT BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE. And so, not only do the police misrepresent autistic behaviours as criminal behaviours, they often break the law themselves in the process.
In Marcus' case, the police were unable to distinguish between anti-social behaviour and autistic behaviour. When they requested that the CPS applied for the latest CBO to be imposed on Marcus, they claimed that Marcus’ behaviour represented a threat to the public and himself. It is hard to see what threat Marcus does pose to the public. At least Marcus is up-front about his filming, whereas the state is furtively filming us on CCTV in every public space we enter. But the threat to Marcus is real: police criminalised him because of intolerance of his behaviour and charged him to court, which is what lead to these bail conditions being imposed on him in the first place.
Watch this video that Marcus took of himself being arrested outside McDonalds in Great Yarmouth as an illustration that, although the police clearly find Marcus' behaviour provocative, they only have themselves to blame given their over-the-top and embarrassingly heavy handed response to a close encounter of the autistic kind.
One thing that seems to characterise all the police officers in Marcus' many videos of them, is a distinct lack of a sense of humour, never mind a lack of humanity. There are many skills the police could and should have used to de-escalate the situation rather than allowing themselves to be provoked. Note that PACE requires all other available responses to be considered before resorting to arrest. SEE NOTE ON POLICE POWERS OF ARREST HERE.
Marcus was held in Norwich Prison pending a court hearing which took place on 24/01/2018, but which did not have a date set. While being held in prison Marcus was only allowed three visits per month. At that hearing he was released from prison on bail following guilty pleas to both of the offences. In spite of a social work assessment eventually being completed in August 2018 (7 months after his release from prison), it simply concluded that the Learning Disability Team could not meet Marcus's care needs and he would be referred to another team.
Statutory services had still not provided Marcus with a Care Plan or any follow up support
until early 2019, which was more than 12 months after the judge released him from prison. He has also been arrested a further 8 times for so-called breaches of both his court imposed bail conditions and his original Criminal Behaviour Order alone. This does not include the countless times that he has been arrested for other offences, which the Police have often done. He feels that the Police had no real necessity to arrest him.
On one occasion he was imprisoned again for one those breaches — i.e., he was seen within 100 meters of a police station in breach of his court imposed bail conditions. One has to question then just how effective the CBO was if additional bail conditions were required following one of his many arrests of breaching his CBO. They were imposed to "prevent further offences" but in fact simply resulted in even more arrests than before they were imposed, which arguably defeated their own purpose. Nevertheless, bail was eventually granted at Norwich Crown Court, this was on the bail conditions that Marcus must wear an electronic tag, observe a 7pm curfew, reside at his usual home address and that he must not go within 100 meters of any police station, but this time anywhere within England or Wales, and not just within the county of Norfolk.
However following the collapse of an attempted trial for numerous breaches of his CBO in March 2019 (which is now the first of two attempts), many of those conditions were removed and replaced with one of his old bail conditions, that being that he must not be within 100 metres of any Police station in the county of Norfolk but this time it was subject to certain specific exemptions. Marcus had awaited trial for 7 of those alleged breaches. The CPS subsequently dropped those breaches of his CBO as they were "not in the public interest" given that the order had since expired and the courts were backlogged due to the suspension of jury trials in England and Wales due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is what Marcus himself says about the illegitimacy of the conditions of both CBOs:
'ACPO guidance states “There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so." Therefore the courts should not be making an order to prevent me lawfully protesting against the actions of Police officers and exercising my right to film in public places.'
Marcus was also denied the opportunity of accommodation in Cambridge, which he applied for in the hope of living independently because of his previous convictions. This included spent convictions and arrests dating as far back as 2016. Marcus says, "the annoying thing about that decision is that they had absolutely no legal basis to even ask about my convictions whatsoever, let alone take them into consideration when deciding whether or not to offer me accommodation there. I felt devastated and violated about my experience applying to supported housing, not by the fact that I was turned down but rather because I was asked questions that should never have been put to me in the first place." Marcus urges any ex-offenders to avoid answering any questions that housing providers ask about spent criminal convictions or previous arrests—he has said that only unspent convictions should be declared.
The actor Richard Mylan—whose BBC documentary Richard and Jaco: Life With Autism was broadcast last year—was also part of the campaign to free Marcus and was right to express concern about his 11 year old son's own preoccupation with filming in this recent BBC news item.
Marcus' story has not been all doom and gloom. In 2019, Marcus enrolled to study a Level 3 BTEC course in Computing at a local Further Education college. He started his course in September 2019, and is still studying as of June 2020. However he has said that at times, the staff haven't been sufficiently understanding of his condition, and that he will move on from his current programme of study next academic year. However, Marcus considers himself lucky to have been released from prison. He says that even studying a course at a bad college is many times better than serving time behind bars.
Sadly, this is not the experience of many other autistic people who continue to be criminalised because of poor policing and the failure of Health and Social Care services to meet their statutory responsibilities to safeguard and support them.