J’s Story (J is a pseudonym as he reasonabley wants to move on in his life and leave the past behind him. The original story remains in the public domain but this version has been anonymised)
J was diagnosed with autism aged three. By the age of 15, J had also developed Crohn's disease, he also had to deal with the stress of constant bullying in school which did not help. Now aged 23 (as of July 2020), J has previously had an obsession with filming the police, something that has led to numerous arrests, and a number of appearances in court. On November 16th 2017, on his way to a Job Centre appointment, J reportedly stuck two fingers up at the police whilst carrying out a peaceful protest as he was fed up with the trouble he had been getting from them. He was arrested at his home the next day for breaching court imposed bail conditions, and whilst in prison, J was also convicted for a section 5 Public Order Act offence.
But J did not always have issues with the police. One of his psychiatrists noted J as telling him that, "I did like the police […] they've mostly been kind to me." But all this changed after a series of incidents involving the police. J became very upset and angry at the way the police were treating him. As a result, he started filming them to get evidence about the way he was being treated. His rationale was that if local councils can use surveillance cameras to catch the public behaving badly, why can't he do the same to the Police? J is highly intelligent and has developed a strong knowledge of both the law, and Computer Hardware. 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."
J was at home when the police called, and arrested him. From the Police station, they immediately took him to Court where — not surprisingly — J unsuccessfully chose to represent himself and was then taken to the local prison, HMP Norwich. The family was NEVER informed by the Police of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment. The Police Custody officers would have been very aware of J's 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 J's case, the Police, CPS and the criminal courts were unable to distinguish between anti-social behaviour and autistic behaviour. When the Police requested that the CPS apply for a CBO to be imposed on J, they claimed that J's behaviour represented a threat to the public and himself. It is hard to see what threat J does pose to the public. At least J is up-front about his filming, whereas local councils are furtively filming us on CCTV in every publicly owned space we enter. But the threat to J is real: the Police criminalised him because of intolerance of his behaviour, which is what led to these bail conditions and J's CBO all being imposed on him in the first place. Not only that, the courts even failed to treat J as an innocent person despite J being presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Although the police clearly find J's 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.
There are many skills the police could and should have used to de-escalate the situation when dealing with J 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.
J was held in HMP Norwich on remand pending a Crown Court hearing which took place on 24/01/2018. While being held in prison J was only allowed three visits per month, which meant that he was unlawfully denied one visit every month that he was legally entitled to receive.
At that hearing J was released from prison on bail following guilty pleas to both of the offences. He was eventually sentenced to serve 60 days in a Young Offenders institution i.e. a lesser period of detention than time served.
Statutory services had still not provided J 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.
On one occasion he was seen within 100 meters of a police station in breach of his court imposed bail conditions, which resulted in him being remanded into custody for a second time. Whilst J's bail conditions were imposed to "prevent further offences", they in fact simply resulted in even more arrests than before they were imposed, which defeated their own purpose.
Nevertheless, bail was granted 12 days later at Norwich Crown Court, this was on the conditions that J must wear an electronic tag, observe a 7pm curfew, reside at his usual home address and 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), most of those conditions were removed. His remaining condition of bail was that he must not be within 100 metres of any Police station in Norfolk or Suffolk but this time it was subject to certain specific exemptions. J 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 COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is what J 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 exercising my right to film in public places.'
J 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. J told me that, "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 that hostel, not only by the fact that I was turned down but also because I was asked questions that should never have been put to me in the first place." J urges any ex-offenders to avoid disclosing any spent criminal convictions or previous arrests to housing providers.
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 J and was right to express concern about his 11 year old son's own preoccupation with filming in a BBC news item.
J's story has not been all doom and gloom. In 2019, J enrolled to study a Level 3 BTEC course in Computing at a local Further Education college. He started his course in September 2019, and completed his course in June 2020. However he has said that at times, the staff haven't been sufficiently understanding of his condition. As a resulted he decided to move on from his current programme of study. However, J considers himself lucky to have been released from prison. He says that even life with a criminal record 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 and/or wrongly detained because of poor policing. The failure of Health and Social Care services to meet their statutory responsibilities to safeguard and support those people is another contributing factor to this problem.