This case, reported by the BBC on 31st January 2018 under the title, “Police Tasered Bristol man with mental age of seven”, involved an incident in which police were called out by staff at a supported accommodation unit because one of the residents was presenting with behaviours they clearly could not cope with, and that he had “cracked” a window, later acknowledged to be an accident. In the first place, one has to ask why police were asked to respond at all when Max was clearly in need of, and entitled to, the skilled intervention of clinically trained staff—the claim by police that they are being used as a frontline mental health service is discussed again below, but it must be questionioned why they accept such a role instead of insisting on the attendance of the appropriate emergency services from health or social services.
This video of the incident clearly demonstrates that the police are not trained or equipped to calm down situations involving vulnerable adults who are likely frightened and out of control. Instead of approaching Max calmly and trying to defuse the situation, one officer is in-his-face and confrontational, while the other is reaching for his taser gun. If the police are so easily panicked, no wonder that they cause further panic in those already agitated because no one is in control of the situation. If Max’s mother had not managed to obtain the video and independent witnesses, false claims by the police that it was they who had been assaulted by Max, could have led to him being imprisoned. Max now has a criminal record when what he should have received was care and support.
Max’s case is only one of those on this site where medical evidence was ignored by the police. After having to wait two years for a diagnosis, a psychiatric report stating that it would not be productive for Max to go through the criminal justice system as his behaviours required treatment not punishment was sent to the police but ignored and not added to his records.
WHAT FAMILIES REGARD AS FURTHER ABUSE BY THE INDEPENDENT OFFICE OF POLICE COMPLAINTS (IOPC)
Max’s mother became so frustrated in the police and the IPCC (rebranded as IOPC in January 2018) ignoring and failing to investigate clear evidence that her son had been assaulted by the police that, following the publication of their first investigation report in 2015, she took her evidence (the video above) to the media so that the public could see for themselves that police claims that they had been assaulted by Max were false—and that they had in fact assaulted him.
Max’s mother submitted a complaint in January 2016. Over two years of delay after delay followed in completing their findings, and after being told that the most recent delays were due to the IOPC consulting with their lawyers, Max’s solicitor eventually received an email from the IOPC that their report was now completed but that they were not able to share the report with Max or his mother for legal reasons. And now the modus operandi of the IOPC became clear—as did their reasons for consulting their lawyers. They quoted Regulation 13 of the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2012 that include provisions to withhold information where it is (a) required on proportionality grounds; or (b) otherwise in the public interest.
The IOPC’s claim was that this second report contained sensitive information and data relating to third parties, presumably (as in any such complaint) the police officers identified. And that because Max’s mother had gone to the media previously, there was a risk of that the Data Protection Act could be breached. The IOPC maintained that, in order to minimise these risks, they were refusing to share not only the full report, but even a redacted version of the report. And so after two years of waiting for the outcome of Max’s investigation, the family were refused being able to read the report. The obvious question for all those who are familiar with the workings of IPCC/IOPC, how on earth would Max or his mother be able to appeal the report if they were not able to read it? At the end of all such reports is the option of going to judicial review if the complainant remains unsatisfied. And so how are the family expected to make such a decision?
Attempts by Max’s mother to arrange a meeting with the IOPC have been continually thwarted. All of her perfectly legitimate questions are being drowned out by legalistic excuses and the now typical IOPC response that they have already addressed the issues being raised—when they clearly have not.
The absolute failure of the IOPC—until January 2018 the IPCC—to safeguard autistic people and address complaints about the way autistic people are treated by the police is a national scandal. A scandal that needs to be exposed and addressed by those in Government with responsibility for the millions of pounds of public money being wasted on this bankrupt organisation whose only role appears to be to protect the police from criticism, not to hold them to account.
How do they achieve this? By accepting claims by the police at face value without properly investigating them, and then using the complaints process as a war of attrition to wear complainants down into losing the will to go on. This is discussed further at the end of Sam’s Story.
UPDATE: Officers of the IOPC did eventually meet with Max’s mother and her MP and shared selective findings from the report, including the Lead Investigator’s finding that, ‘there was no evidence to suggest that the police officers used more force than they honestly and instinctively considered necessary to effect the arrest’ and that, ‘the officers involved had no case to answer for misconduct or for gross misconduct.’ The police were sent a letter by the IOPC to the effect they needed autism training, but at a subsequent meeting in 2018 with the Force’s autism lead, Max’s mother (and Sam and Luke’s parents who were also present at the meeting) were told told that autism training had been suspended.
The IOPC admitted that there had been unacceptable delays and mistakes, that key evidence had not been considered, and agreed with other assessments that what Max needed was care and support, not police intervention. However, they still will not release the entire investigation report and said it is not their job to overturn records of convictions. The IOPC continue to insist that Judicial Review remains the only remedy open to the family. When Max’s mother asked the IOPC officers why it took them 2 years to investigate her complaint but she only had 3 months to lodge a Judicial Review, she was told, “That’s the law.”
Meeting with Michael Lockwood, Director General of the IOPC
The parents of Max, Sam, and Daniel, met with Michael Lockwood, on 24/11/2018, together with Sam’s MP, Kevin Brennan, Lord Bradley, and Tim Nicholls from the National Autistic Society. Michael Lockwood undertook to conduct a review of the 3 cases to learn lessons about how the IOPC should be working better to safeguard autistic complainants. In the end took 16 months to complete and was a complete whitewash. In all 3 cases the outcome was that the original complaints had been properly conducted and none of the issues raised by Max’s mother were addressed.
Assurances given by Michael Lockwood that the IOPC were a new organisation, would do things differently, not replicate the shortcomings of the former IPCC, would hold the police to account when things went wrong and learn lessons from mistakes, have not been met and complainants have been further harmed by the police complaint process. These shortcomings have now been submitted as evidence to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee to scrutinise.