Police liable to autistic teenager

Posted: 14th February 2013

Police carThe Court of Appeal has rejected a bid by the Metropolitan Police to overturn a £28,250 damages award made to a severely autistic and epileptic teenager who was restrained by officers after jumping fully clothed into a public swimming pool. The force had argued that the award for trespass to the person, assault and battery, and false imprisonment set a dangerous precedent and would lead to officers being ‘wary and defensive’ when attending emergencies involving those suffering from a disability or mental illness.

The case arose after the claimant, ZH, then aged 16, plunged in jacket and trousers into Acton Baths, west London, in 2008 and was lifted out and put in handcuffs and leg restraints before being held in the back of a police van prior to being handed over to carers. ZH sued the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis through his father, who said that the incident had changed his son from a ‘loveable little kid into an upset child’ who did not want to bathe, shower or go into water.

Dismissing the Commissioner’s appeal, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson said that nothing could justify the manner in which officers had restrained ZH. He rejected arguments that the finding of liability against the force amounted to an unwarranted interference with the operational discretion of officers and threatened to make practical policing impossible in such circumstances.

Despite expressing ‘some sympathy’ for the relevant officers, who were ‘intent on securing the best interests of everyone, not least ZH’, the judge said: “Operational discretion is not sacrosanct. It cannot be invoked by the police in order to give them immunity from liability for everything that they do.’