Nick Clarke describes the torment he suffered that led to a criminal record and lasting damage to his and his family’s life, in the chapter Nick co-authored in a new book, ‘Global Perspectives On Legal Capacity Reform—Our Voices, Our Stories.’ Nick is the youngest of eight children, six sisters and a brother. In this video of Nick telling his story, his sister describes them as a close and loving family.
In March 2004, Nick purchased a brand new car that was not to his exacting high standards. He was unhappy with the car model and number plate, but Nick had already committed himself, having paid a deposit of £250 from a pushy and persuasive salesman over the telephone. This caused Nick to go through high stress, anxiety and insomnia and was the triggering point to a long term depression. At the time, Nick’s family did not know Nick was autistic. He was officially diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome in September 2004, after being assessed by a child psychiatrist, as there were no adult autism diagnosis centres available at the time in the City of Birmingham.
In January 2005 Nick’s father was diagnosed with leukaemia and told he only had a few weeks to live. This was a time when there were no specialist autism services or clinicians in the Birmingham area. The psychiatrist and social worker who where assigned to work with Nick initially, dismissed his behaviours as attention seeking, but later he was prescribed a cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medication, and this is when Nick’s real problems began. His sister describes how his personality completely changed, becoming angry and aggressive. This is how Nick describes his meltdowns in the book chapter:
‘My anxiety and stress levels felt like a pressure cooker building up to boiling point. As the steam builds up, my anxiety rises. Once it reaches boiling point and full pressure, the cooker gives out a loud whistle as the steam comes through the vent pipe hitting the pressure regulator making a loud whistle and hissing sounds like a demented snake.’
Nick’s mother found she was increasingly unable to cope with Nick’s behaviour and on an occasion when he started howling, repeating things over and over, and smashing furniture in the home, she called social services for help.
The tragedy is that Nick’s deterioration in his behaviour was largely due to being given drugs that exacerbated problems that might have been managed at home, avoiding the consequences of what now followed. A social worker and police officer arrived at the home and told Nick he had twenty minutes to pack up and leave the home, telling his parents that they must not allow Nick back through the front door. The absurdity is that Nick was placed in a hostel immediately across the street from his parents house and so could see family coming and going but could not participate in family life.
There was no structural routines in the hostel and the hostel warden kept calling the police for minor incidents. On one occasion, Nick was physically assaulted in his bedroom for not going to work. He was eventually evicted and moved to another hostel three miles away with even less care provided and no one supervising Nick’s medication that he carried in his pocket, overdosing or missing out his prescribed medication. He was constantly being verbally bullied and physically threatened and at this point started self-harming by slashing his upper legs with a small knife where the injuries could not be seen to help relief his stress and anxieties. At this point Nick paid a visit to the original hostel opposite his parents’ home and started smashing some flower pots and the police were called. A few days later he was outside of the hostel threatening to self-harm. Again the police were called (noticeably, as is so often the case, not clinicians).
Nick had been carrying the very small bladed hobby craft knife that he used to self-harm and, absurdly, instead of diverting Nick for a psychiatric assessment, the police arrested him for carrying a weapon with intent to harm others. The custody sergeant was fully aware that Nick had mental health issues and was self-harming, and an ‘appropriate adult’ was called out. But, and this is the health warning about appropriate adults, the AA did not advise Nick to have legal representation and allowed him to accept a caution as a ‘slap on the wrist’, even though Nick was unaware that taking a caution was an admission of guilt that would result in a criminal record for a knife crime remaining on police records indefinitely.
The hostel refused to take Nick back so he was left to fend for himself in the early hours of the morning after being released from the Police Custody. With no fixed address and barred from entering his family home Nick was now homeless and vulnerable. Wondering around the streets of Birmingham in a fragile state, he ended up at his brother-in-laws office pleading for help and support when the office opened at 9am. Nick was admitted to a psychiatric ward to safeguard his health and welfare, a far better alternative to sleeping rough.
On discharge Nick was sent to a third hostel, where again he was verbally abused and physically threatened by the hostel staff and on one occasion assaulted by a police officer who repeatedly pressed his arm against Nick’s throat in the back of a police car. Shortly after, Nick had another meltdown and damaged a glass panelled door, whereupon he was arrested again and charged with criminal damage and actual bodily harm. He spent two nights in a custody cell and then taken to a magistrates court where he was ‘told’ to plead guilty by his solicitor. Nick was then remanded in Winson Green Prison for three weeks. On arrival in prison he was asked if he was suicidal and when he confirmed that he was, the officers started smirking, ridiculing him and joking about it. Questions must be asked as to how innocent people like Nick are criminalised simply for being ill and in need of care, while police officers and prison staff can get away with carrying out hate crimes against mentally vulnerable people.
After his three weeks on remand, Nick was taken to the magistrates court, Nick’s solicitor advised Nick to plead guilty failing to give an explanation or option to plead not guilty. He was sent to a secure psychiatric unit in Bedfordshire where he spent seven months. At least here there was an element of proper medical supervision and Nick was able to come off the seven different prescribed drugs that he should never have been given in the first place. Nick has since managed to rehabilitate himself and has gained qualifications in child care and autism awareness. He is passionate and focused on one job career only, wanting to work with young people with additional needs, but given his criminal record, it is proving to be difficult for Nick to gain employment in this field.
What Nick wants from this campaign:
“A pardon for autistic individuals not to have a lifelong criminal record for actions that could have been avoided if autism awareness was more understood by the UK Criminal Justice System. Prosecuted for being autistic! A similar scenario for the gay community in the 50s and 60s for being openly gay and being criminalised for being the way they were born.”
We fully intend to support Nick and others whose stories are told on this website in achieving this goal. Not to be confused with Nick Clarke, as the American autistic author and commentator Nick Dubin tweeted on this site:
“When we put an autistic individual in the criminal justice system as a first resort rather than a last, we ought to at least acknowledge that we are disenfranchising them for life as well as leaving them incapacitated.”
Autistic people have a right to move on in their life and put other people’s mistakes behind them. Not to have their whole life ruined by a criminal record that should never have been administered in the first place.