"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche




12 Apr 2018

Angela Morgan Cutler


Angela worked for ten years as a psychiatric nurse in St Albans, London and Cardiff, before training as a fine-artist. After completing her BA in 1990, she combined her mental health experience and creative skills to run art groups in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. After completing an MA in The Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing at Cardiff University in 1999, Angela developed 'Finding a Voice', freelance creative writing classes and workshops across South Wales. This included the ten week beginners and follow-on women's writing programmes she ran at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff between 2000 and 2013, and from which some exciting new writers emerged and published. During this time, Angela enrolled for a Ph.D in Creative & Critical Writing at Cardiff University which she completed in 2005.

Angela's novel Auschwitz was first published by Two Ravens Press in May 2008, a second edition with Colico in January 2014, and a third edition in June 2016 with Galileo Press. Her second novel, The Letter, was published by Two Raven's Press in January 2011 (see descriptions of both books below). Since that time Angela has been working on her third novel Windows when able to take time out from a busy schedule campaigning at a national level for a greater awareness of autism (see excerpt from Windows). 


published works

Auschwitz  




DESCRIPTION FROM BACK COVER. 'Auschwitz: a place where millions were killed and which thousands now visit each year. A mass grave—and a tourist destination. The focus of this work of autobiographical fiction is on the sightseers, the curious that are drawn to visit. It is a book that questions our need to look: what is there to uncover, other than the difficulty of peering into such a place and into a subject that has been obsessively documented, yet can never really be understood? How to write about Auschwitz in the twenty-first century, in a time when the last generation of survivors is soon to be lost?
     This is also a book that searches for a personal story. It opens on a local bus that takes Angela, her husband En (whose mother survived the holocaust where most of her family did not) and their two sons to Auschwitz sixty years after the holocaust, and ends in a pine forest outside Minsk where En's grandparents were shot in May 1942. The backbone of Auschwitz is a series of emails between the author and acclaimed Franco-American writer Raymond Federman. At the age of 14, Federman (now approaching 80) was hastily thrust into the small upstairs closet of their Paris apartment by his mother just before she, his father and two sisters were taken to Auschwitz, where they were killed.
     Federman also has spent a lifetime trying to find a language appropriate for the enormity of the holocaust and his part in its legacy, ultimately espousing laughterature—laughter as a means of survival. This beautiful, powerful and innovative work experiments with new forms—correspondence, reflections, dreams, a travelogue—that mirror the fragmentary legacy of the holocaust itself and, at the same time, capture its contradictions—and sometimes its absurdity.'

Links to essays discussing Auschwitz:  

Making the Silence Speak: Angela Morgan Cutler's Auschwitz” from Oxford Journals, Forum for Modern Language Studies



REVIEWS

'Cutler's Auschwitz creates a category of its own ... undoubtedly a new voice of the post-Holocaust generations ... Her sophisticated and highly individual poetic style "shows the tracks of her labour" ... in an imaginative way and by doing so turns Cutler's debut into a superb novel on writing.' (read full review here)
Scottish Review of Books

'Cutler does not preach or patronise, and her ability to deliver impressively poetic prose means that she never compromises the subject-matter. Her voice is refreshing, shocking and commanding, and represents an exciting departure for contemporary fiction.'

New Welsh Review

‘Auschwitz stands like a tombstone for our civilisation. Angela Morgan Cutler has brilliantly infiltrated the borders of this landscape of desolation. Somehow she has found a voice that reflects the enormity of the horrors perpetuated there without being stifled by them. Unsentimental and richly worked … the words are more than mere messengers of thoughts and feelings – they glow with a life of their own … the whole package quite inimitable: the rarest quality in literature.’
Henry Woolf

‘Cutler writes like a British Hélène Cixous. Her invitation to visit with her the tourist attraction that modern-day Auschwitz has become is daring, shocking, profoundly moving – even, on occasion, funny. I loved its stylistic hybridity.’
Susan Sellers

‘When the story of the unspeakable has been told a thousand times, when the images of the unimaginable have been shown a thousand times, when the mind is numb - where do you go from there? You have to start anew. That is what Angela Morgan Cutler has done.’

Rex Bloomstein

'Beautifully written – and I LOVE the Joan Rivers dream!'
Joan Rivers


The Letter





DESCRIPTION FROM BACK COVER.Following on from the success of her first book, Auschwitz, Angela Morgan Cutler offers us another 'novel' that defies easy definition or assignment to a fixed genre. The Letter creates its own category. It takes the form of a reply to the anonymous author of a threat letter that was sent to the narrator's husband, En. Instead of the natural response, to freeze or lose language in reaction to such a threat, the book releases a voice that faces the anonymous other who wrote it; a continuous, digressive reply that winds its way through daily observations, reminiscences and reflections that succeed in creating a distance from the potential violence imposed on the family.
     The Letter is also an affirmation of home and of the restorative power of storytelling as the book flips between the UK - in the days and weeks that follow the arrival of the letter, with all the paranoia and imaginative leaps that fear evokes—and Spain, months later, when the threat begins to subside. Interspersed throughout the text are accounts of other people's stories—examples of written threats they too have received—and interviews with others caught up in the event: family, friends, a police officer, a postman, a counsellor; all sharing their own perspectives on the process of being threatened, bullied, or stalked. The Letter is a response to a threat that can never be sent: there is no return address. And yet, the narrator's reply to the unknown author of the threat remains as a powerful trace of the experience, and a testament to so many stories left untold.

REVIEWS

‘Nerve-wracking, The Letter will have you on the edge of your seat. Scary and involving, it’s a brave and unexpected book that makes you think about the nature of the imagination itself.’
Jackie Kay

'The Letter is inimitable. No one I know writes like Cutler: so uncontrived, so unself-indulgent, so observant of character, of people, of the places we find ourselves in, the things that surround us. Such a flow of words, but not just any old words. The right words. They don’t swamp the reader, we float on them. Our awareness is nourished by their unaffected honesty, their straightforwardness.'

Henry Woolf

11 Jan 2018

Criminalising Autism



'FAMILIES AGAINST CRIMINALISING AUTISM'

Since publishing the original post, several of the families of those whose stories are featured below, and others who choose to remain anonymous, have now formed a support and campaign group to hold Government and other public bodies accountable for injustices against autistic adults. See bottom of post if you wish to get involved. 


Being Autistic in a Non-Autistic World

Ever since I retired as head of a local authority, adult social services department some 6 years ago, following a lifetime working in and managing mental health and learning disability services, my wife (a former psychiatric nurse who also worked in MIND and the Probation Service) and myself have devoted a big chunk of our time to campaigning about the way that some autistic people are misunderstood, neglected, even abused, by the very organisations who are supposed to protect and safeguard them. I make no distinction here between the public, private and charitable sectors, all of whom are capable of failing autistic people—except to stress that it is statutory services and their political masters who are ultimately accountable for the failures described below. Paradoxically, those most at risk are often the ones at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum. This is precisely because they may outwardly pass, and often want to pass, as non-autistic. These folk are more likely to have their behaviours perceived and misrepresented as anti-social rather than autistic, precisely because they spend a good part of their day out in the community, away from the family home or care system. The stories of Bradley Grimes and Marcus Potter below well illustrate this phenomena of the 'invisible disability’.

The autistic person—figures of one in every hundred of the general population is likely significantly underestimated—is vulnerable and encounters problems with everyday living usually, as they tell me, when they come into contact with ‘neurotypical’ people. Left to themselves, and in the absence of those troublesome necessities of the modern world like managing bank accounts, a tenancy, or going through a job recruitment process (even though many can, and do), they can be entirely fulfilled and contented. But it is increasingly difficult to navigate the world outside of the all consuming powers and surveillance of state run and commercial bureaucracies.

To refer then to autism as a ‘disability’ should be turned on its head, in as much as it is the rest of the human herd that fails to understand or tolerate those who think and communicate differently from themselves. There are of course striking examples of where the potential of the autistic mind has been recognised and harnessed with significant benefits, both for those involved and wider society, most notably Silicon Valley in California where to be autistic is pretty much the norm. Then there is an entire unit of the Israeli army made up of autistic recruits engaged in high level intelligence work tracking computer generated satellite images (I make no further comment on the Israeli army’s wider contribution to an unkinder, less tolerant world). Many arts and sciences university campuses are also likely to be autism friendly environments. Yet such examples as these do nothing to enhance the lives of the majority of people on the autistic spectrum who continue to be disabled by the neurotypical world’s ignorance and discrimination of the autistic brain.


Autistic Behaviours are not Criminal Behaviours

To those who say—and they frequently do say"Autism is not an excuse for criminal behaviour", I agree, but the assumption is back to front. Those same people should take a long, hard look at the evidence, apply a bit of humanity and common sense, and ask themselves, "Was the behaviour actually criminal or was the behaviour normal and understandable in the context of the person's disability and what triggered the behaviour in the first place?" We would not arrest a blind person for bumping into us in a public space, or someone with Tourette syndrome for shouting at usthough no doubt this has happened too. If someone is experiencing an autistic meltdown, freezes, shouts or lashes out, look at what provoked such behaviour in the first place. Extreme fear and panic do not equal aggressive or anti-social behaviour; they are situations that require a calm presence to de-escalate the situation, not, as in Max's case below, being shot with a taser gun and knocked to the ground. 

In most cases then, autistic behaviour is NOT criminal, it is only perceived and treated as such because of ignorance, and sometimes malicious intent. Repetitive and compulsive autistic behaviours, which the individual is often unaware is offending other people, should be contextualised and understood, not criminalised. People understand Tourettes and other neurological behaviours that may be perceived as ‘odd’, so why do they refuse to understand autism; and why should odd behaviour be perceived as criminal? 

Research suggests that the percentage of autistic people who commit crime is likely to be lower than that for the neuro-typical population. This is precisely because having a strong moral compass and following rules is a common feature of autism. That the autistic person does not always understand social rules and is unable to defend themselves with language when they do transgress them, is not of itself criminal because in many cases, 'mens rea', the knowledge of and intention to commit a crime, is absent. The fact that there may be a higher percentage by ratio of autistic to non-autistic people in Britain's prisons, is alarming and requires an urgent review, not least of those convicted based on evidence produced from unlawful police interviews at which no 'appropriate adult' was present, coercion was used, failure to provide 'reasonable adjustments', and other perversions of the course of justice—SEE DISCUSSION AT BOTTOM ON THE POLICE & CRIMINAL EVIDENCE ACT (PACE) AND UNRELIABLE CONFESSIONS


Accounts of Criminalising People on the Autistic Spectrum

Personal experience of autism in the family and recent news items about the criminalisation of autistic young people in Britain, has spurred me to comment on just the kind of societal pressures that probably forced many into a life of exile in the past and is today a damning indictment on the bankrupt state of Western civilisation. 

The UK press has been full of headlines in recent years such as, “Seven police officers 'pinned down and handcuffed severely autistic teenage boy who jumped in swimming pool on school trip’ ” (2011); handcuffs and a spit-hood were also used on the 11 year old autistic girl who, “referred to as Child H, was detained for over 60 hours without an appropriate adult by Sussex police in 2012. She was arrested three times and was twice held overnight in police cells, without a parent, guardian or social worker present to support her”, then there was the incident of an autistic man who was accused of sexual assault after hugging a girl on a college trip in 2015. “The man was handcuffed while being transported to the station and detained in a cell for six hours, despite telling officers he had Asperger’s Syndrome and showing them his autism alert card. The charges were eventually dropped and he received an out-of-court five-figure settlement.” There was also the case last year where, “Police handcuff autistic boy, 12, leaving him ‘distressed and sobbing’ after fight with brother at school.”

I now focus in more detail on stories involving other young people criminalised simply for being autistic:


Adam’s Story 

23-year-old Adam Nasralla was diagnosed with autism aged nine. Up until the age of 15 he managed, and was happy, in mainstream schools with additional support. Adam’s behaviour became more challenging with the onset of adolescence and by the age of 18 he was detained under the Mental Health Act. There then followed a series of disastrous admissions to specialist hospitals where staff do not seem to have had any training or understanding of autism. Adam was frequently physically restrained by as many as nine hospital staff for up to 11 hours at a time. He was also so heavily medicated that he was unable to speak. 

In 2014, during his ‘treatment’ at the private Wast Hills Hospital in Birmingham, a doctor decided to ‘remove’ Adam’s diagnosis of autism in order that hospital staff could criminalise his behaviour (claiming that he now had capacity and was therefore was criminally responsible for his behaviours). Staff then called the police to restrain Adam and when they arrived, Adam was handcuffed, placed in a spit hood, restrained with a belt, and taken into police custody where he continued to be restrained without the presence of a solicitor or appropriate adult. 

Adam’s legal team, Hodge, Jones and Allen, report on their website that ‘when Adam’s parents finally got to visit their son after his arrest, he was clearly extremely disturbed and could not stop crying. He continues to suffer trauma as a result of his arrest and police detention.’ Adam was subsequently treated in a caring environment where his diagnosis was reinstated and his medication significantly reduced. A civil law claim for negligence, assault, breach of human rights and wrongful arrest was settled out of court by both Wast Hills Hospital and West Mercia Police.


Bradley’s Story 

23 year old Bradley Grimes had been in the care system since the age of seven. When he left care with no support, aged 17, he became homeless and ended up surviving by begging and sleeping rough. Between that time and the most recent incident, Bradley had been locked up in cells countless times for breaching Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), that is, he was banned from bedding down for the night in shop doorways in Middlesborough. "I can't even sit on a public bench without being locked up. I have to keep moving. … I was in [prison] pretty much all weekend, near enough every weekend.” 

As well as being autistic, it is claimed that Bradley has an inoperable brain tumour “brought on by years of neglect”. He also suffers with epilepsy and a heart murmur. When he appeared in court last October for breaching a four-month suspended jail sentence, he pleaded with the judge to invoke his sentence and send him to prison so that at least he could be warm and fed on his birthday. Bradley felt that jail was a better option than staying outside and continually being arrested. On the outside, “it’s impossible for me to cope on my own, because I'm bad with things like budget and money.” Something the judge clearly agreed with when he commented, "If I were to let you go today the chances are that you would be sitting on a seat or sleeping in a shop doorway and you will be locked up again.”

See FOOTNOTE 2 for further comments on autism and homelessness


Marcus’ Story

Marcus Potter was diagnosed with autism aged three. Now aged 20, Marcus has an obsession with filming the police, something that has led to numerous appearances in court on charges of harassment and bail conditions being applied for repeated ‘offences’. On November 16 last year, 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 for allegedly breaching bail conditions and sent to prison to await trial. 

Marcus' family informed me that on the day he was taken into prison there was no 'appropriate adult' called out or lawyer representing Marcus. Neither was the family informed by police of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment until after the event. Police officers would have been very aware of Marcus' diagnosis of autism as it was on his existing police records, he also wore a medical bracelet stating his health conditions, including his Autism. The lack of an 'appropriate adult' (AA) or lawyer, and prosecuting Marcus based on interviews in the absence of them, would have been in clear breach of The Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) Code C.

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 AA's AT BOTTOM OF THIS POST.  

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, claiming 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; 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 locked him up. 

Watch this video also that Marcus took of himself being arrested as an illustration that, although the police clearly find Marcus' behaviour provocative, they only have themselves to blame given their over-the-top, 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. Better still, help him find work where he could put his skills and boundless energy to good use. Note that PACE requires all other available responses to be considered before resorting to arrest! SEE NOTE ON POLICE POWERS OF ARREST AT BOTTOM OF POST. 

Marcus was held in Norwich Prison pending a hearing set for 19th January 2018 but was released by a judge following a petition launched, titled "Free Marcus Potter—Autism is not a criminal offence", which attracted 10,000 signatures. While being held in prison Marcus was only allowed three visits per month. His release was conditional on him being provided with a care plan from the Local Authority, but as of April this year, statutory services had still not engaged with Marcus, safeguarded him, or provided him with any follow up support.

The actor Richard Mylanwhose 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.


Max's (not his real name) Story




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 from autism trained professionalsI discuss below the claim by police that they are being used as a frontline mental health service, but also question why they accept such a role instead of insisting on the attendance of the appropriate emergency services from health or social care. 

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 gunthe only response many police officers have in their tool kit. 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 they had been assaulted by Max could have led to him being charged with a criminal offence, even imprisoned on that occasion.


Luke’s Story

Luke’s story, like Adam’s above, is about the way vulnerable people are abused by the very services supposed to protect them once they enter the care or prison system. Early reports on Luke as a child refer to autism but he was never formally diagnosed as such because his more recent disabilities have become so complex it is impossible to separate out one condition from another. Luke suffered a number of serious head injuries over the course of his life—the first in Yemen aged 18 months—that left him with brain damage resulting in both physical disabilities and mental health problems. In school, back in the UK, Luke was always referred to as a “naughty child”, given a statement of Special Educational Needs, and diagnosed with a “conduct disorder”.

In 2001, at the age of 13, Luke suffered a second brain injury following a car crash after joy riding. He spent two weeks in a coma and two months in hospital. He was left with serious brain damage and physical disabilities, but upon discharge, instead of being transferred to a brain injury rehabilitation unit for the follow up care he needed, he was transferred into a young offenders institute funded by the Local Authority. Social Services commission beds in such institutes for young people who are, by their assessment, “out of control”.

Luke was first sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2011 for 3 months then imprisoned in 2012 for 18 months charged with street robbery. Luke, who is black, had been approached by a group of white boys who took advantage of his vulnerability and encouraged him to steal for them. This type scenario is a major risk for people on the autistic spectrum and other forms of mental vulnerability and has lately been referred to in the media and internet as “Mate Crime”. Following the incident, the other boys ran off leaving Luke to be arrested, but not before shaving a swastika into the back of his head. The first Luke’s mother was aware of the incident was getting a call from the police the next morning to tell her that Luke was in a cell. Luke’s mother has lost count of the number of times that he has been apprehended and interviewed by the police without the presence of an ‘Appropriate Adult’, in direct breach of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (AGAIN, SEE DISCUSSION ON PACE AT BOTTOM OF POST).

Luke was sectioned again in 2015 after accidentally setting fire to the curtains in his bedroom. His mother was told that he would be found a psychiatric bed from custody—again the question must be asked why he was taken to a police cell instead of being diverted for a psychiatric assessment in the first place. But when no bed was found he went straight to prison where he spent a further three months awaiting assessment and treatment. The prison authorities failed to obtain Luke’s previous medical history or share critical information between themselves to properly identify or treat his health care needs. Luke’s mother faced serious difficulties having his medical conditions recognised by prison staff who simply ignored her. Rather, they interpreted Luke’s behaviour as rebellious and punished him, including physical assault, thereby causing a worsening of his health problems. Luke also suffered assaults and victimisation from other prisoners as a result of his disabilities. So not only was he not properly safeguarded by the prison authorities, including from acts of self-harm, they were actually his abusers.

The risks to Luke are increased by the fact that he remains too trusting of others, even after they have harmed him. As a result of the way Luke has been continually misunderstood and mistreated, he becomes frightened and confused by others behaviour towards him, at times paranoid and delusional, which is then misinterpreted as him being aggressive, resulting in yet further abuse. Luke was eventually transferred to a specialist brain injury unit miles away from his home where his behaviours were further misinterpreted and he was subjected to similar experiences to those he received in prison. The family continue to fight for justice and appropriate care for Luke. They have said that they will provide a further update on his story as soon as possible.


________________________________________________________________________


James Boswell wrote in his Life of Samuel Johnson that, "A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” Many others have revived versions of this truism, including American President Jimmy Carter when he stated that, “The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens [not that I wish to characterise autistic people thus]” But if we accept such maxims at face value, then both Britain and the USA—both currently obsessed with closing their borders to those they regard as ‘foreign’, as well as scapegoating those within their borders who are the victims rather than the beneficiaries of the capitalist dream—are fast descending into a very uncivilised period of their history indeed.

But this post is not meant as a treatise on capitalism, neither is it an exposition on autism, there are dozens of scholarly texts already published for those who want to read up on all aspects of this misunderstood but fascinating human condition. Most notable among these are Olga Bogdashina’s books on proprioception, ‘theory of mind’ and other sensory perceptual issues that characterise the autistic brain. But in my view, the most important books on autism are written by those who, like Temple Grandin, are themselves autistic. Most recent of these is Hamja Ahsan’s Shy Radicals (2017). See details of Hamja's book in Footnote 1 below.


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Talha's Story

Hamja is another reluctant activist. He only took to campaigning about autism after his brother, the award winning poet Talha Ahsan, was arrested in 2006 following a request from the US Government to have him extradited. Talha was detained in Britain without charges or trial for over 6 years before eventually being extradited to the United States—one of the longest such detentions without trial in British history. Unlike the similar case of Garry McKinnon (also involving internet activity), whose extradition to the US was blocked by the UK Government on the basis of his autism and potential risk of suicide if sent to the US, Talha (same diagnosis, same risks) was extradited to the US and held in solitary confinement for nearly two years awaiting trial. Both cases have been widely reported and readers can come to their own conclusions why McKinnon received different treatment from Ahsan. 


Lauri Love

UPDATE: since I posted this article, another high profile extradition case has been ruled on in the UK High Court. The ruling not to extradite 33 year old autistic man Lauri Love to the US (under David Blunkett's perverse, legislative knee jerk reaction to terrorism) was based on the same concerns as those posed by Garry McKinnon's defence: the risk of suicide associated with these young men's diagnosis of autism were they to be imprisoned in the US. Of course UK citizens deserve the right for allegations against them to be investigated and tried in their own country. But if these arguments applied to Garry McKinnon and Lauri Love, then again, why was Talha Ahsan detained without trial for 6 years in the UK and then extradited to the US for an allegation supported by even less evidence than the cases of Love or McKinnon? Following Love's hearing on 5th February 2018, in this article, one journalist at least had the alertness to pose the question as to whether in Mr Ahsan's case, ignorance of autism was compounded by racism.
Garry McKinnon

The cases of Garry McKinnon and Lauri Love have been so widely reported in the media that there is no need to repeat them in this post. When properly understanding the passion and motivation behind both these young men's fascination and preoccupation with internet activity, it is clear that they are neither criminal nor a danger to society; quite the reverse, their significant skills should be sought after and put to positive use. 

I now want to have a personal beef that most of the publicity and campaigning around autism is targeted, not around vulnerable adults with autism, but around cute though troubled children like Joe in the recent BBC series The A Word. Many autism charities focus on children, campaigning for greater awareness in schools and colleges, forgetting that autism is for life and that without support and understanding—not to mention major changes in society—cute but troubled autistic kids may grow up to be less cute and very troubled autistic adults. This post is about what can, and does, happen to some of these autistic adults after they grow up and move beyond the controls and protection of parents and schools.


Problems with the Police Responding to a Mental Health Crisis?

The police frequently complain in the press that pressures on NHS budgets means that, by default, they have become a frontline mental health service. But that is no excuse for behaving in the barbaric way they sometimes do (see Max's Story above). They have clear statutory and other guidelines to follow, such as the Bradley Report’s recommendations on diversion away from arrest and custody to clinical services when the person has either declared or its obvious that they are suffering some kind of mental health problem. Yet it is obvious from the stories above that even where someone produces an autism alert card or is displaying signs of distress or sensory overload, the full force of the law—restraint, arrest, detention—automatically kicks in with all of the human misery and waste of public money that results. Why do police still not bother to request an ‘appropriate adult’ when presented with someone who clearly has a prescribed ‘protected characteristic’? PACE requires them to do this by law (SEE EXCERPTS FROM PACE AT BOTTOM OF POST) but as is clear from the stories above, the police often fail in this most basic of rights. The internet is awash with safeguarding policies and guidelines, including those published by the police themselves, as well as those endorsed by the police such as the National Autistic Society’s, Autism: a guide for criminal justice professionals and Autism: a guide for police officers and staff. That 'safeguarding' as a word has now entered even the police's lexicon but the average police officer still does not have a clue what safeguarding means, never mind how to practice it, is typical of the bankrupt currency of modern rhetoric: if we repeat something often enough people will believe we understand and practice it. 

Even the lawmakers themselves seem to be confused about these issues. In a recent debate in the UK Parliament titled 'Treatment of adults with autism by the criminal justice system', in response to a question about safeguarding autistic adults within the criminal justice system, and clearly mixing up 'liaison and diversion' with the use of section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, the Policing Minister responding to the debate commented that, "Use of such powers [sec. 136] might be appropriate in the case of a person with autism." There are in fact no circumstances that a section 136 should be used to take an autistic person to a place of safety—unless they had a co-occurring mental illness, and only then, if they were posing a risk to themselves or others. It seems that even the Minister was not aware that autism is not a mental illness. Autism is not any kind of illness, and certainly not something that would respond to ‘treatment’.

The criminal justice system and statutory health & social services continue to operate in two entirely separate universes of discourse. More often than not its the first refusing to have a dialogue with the second because they are too pumped up to stop and realise that the ‘criminal’ they think they’ve been called out to restrain may actually be a victim in need of safeguarding and support—the unacceptable numbers of deaths in custody of people with a diagnosis of mental illness in the UK already testifies to this. A recent report debated in Parliament shows that suicide rates among autistic people is nine times that of the general population and puts the risks and vulnerability of being autistic in today’s world into further focus.


The Discrimination of Autism

50 years ago, homosexual behaviour in Britain was finally de-criminalised and de-pathologised, even though the open discrimination of LGBT people and medical intervention to change people’s sexual orientation continued. And while that discrimination may still exist today, there are strict penalties against those who publicly express it. So it is with racial discrimination. That in living memory, the attempt to murder an entire ethnic population (as well as disabled people and those who were autisticas identified by Asperger himself!) could be authorised by the state of one of the most ‘civilised’ Western nations now seems like science fiction. My own maternal grandparents were among those murdered in this waythe reason I have zero tolerance towards those who behave like Nazi’s today. But let’s not kid ourselves that such behaviour is a phenomenon of history; America recently elected a president on the same ticket of scapegoating entire ethnic groups for the ills of his country, not to mention misogyny and homophobia, as did the German Chancellor when elected in 1933. That is the fundamental flaw of the human condition—scientific advancement progresses at an alarming rate, human nature hasn't progressed in the last 2,000 years.

But to return to autism, in spite of the Autism Act 2009 (the Welsh Government continues to resist implementing such an Act) the criminalising and pathologising of autistic behaviour remains one of the last areas of discrimination in the UK not to be vigorously outlawed. Statutory services such as local authorities, the NHS and the police, are still able to discriminate against autistic people without challenge.
For years, mental health services were described as the ‘cinderella service’ of the NHS, receiving proportionally the least resources—and to some extent still do. But compared to dedicated autism services (only now slowly emerging on a piecemeal and tokenistic basis), mental health services are a well protected, statutory mainstream provision. The same goes for national policy and strategy documents. Autism is often only referred to briefly as an afterthought or add-on to mainstream documents written for other disability groups such as the mentally ill or people with learning disabilities—whose clinical practitioners are often woefully ignorant of autism or the risks associated with it. But autism is neither a mental illness or a learning disability, and unless co-occurring with one of those other disabilities, people with autism are excluded altogether from those more protected services. Only a revised, universal Autism Act that gives people real rights rather than merely good intentions, together with the implementation of Lord Bradley’s proposals on 'liaison and diversion' into law (with specific reference to autism), will ensure that autistic people can no longer be denied support, discriminated against and criminalised in the manner they currently are today.


POLICE AND CRIMINAL EVIDENCE ACT (PACE)

         PACE Code G concerns the Police's power to arrest:

1.1 "The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for police officers to discriminate against, harass or victimise any person on the grounds of the ‘protected characteristics’ of age, disability, [etc.] —autism is a 'protected characteristic' under PACE

1.2 The exercise of the power of arrest represents an obvious and significant interference with the Right to Liberty and Security under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights set out in Part I of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998.


1.3  The use of the power must be fully justified and officers exercising the power should consider if the necessary objectives can be met by other, less intrusive means. Absence of justification for exercising the power of arrest may lead to challenges should the case proceed to court. It could also lead to civil claims against police for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment. When the power of arrest is exercised it is essential that it is exercised in a non-discriminatory and proportionate manner which is compatible with the Right to Liberty under Article 5.

         PACE Code C concerns the detention, treatment and questioning of suspects in 
         police custody:

1.4 If an officer has any suspicion, or is told in good faith, that a person of any age may be mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, in the absence of clear evidence to dispel that suspicion, the person shall be treated as such for the purposes of this Code. See Note 1G. 

1G ‘Mentally vulnerable’ applies to any detainee who, because of their mental state or capacity, may not understand the significance of what is said, of questions or of their replies.

3.15 If the detainee is a juvenile, mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, the custody officer must, as soon as practicable: 

• inform the appropriate adult … of: 
∼ the grounds for their detention; 
∼ their whereabouts. 

ask the adult to come to the police station to see the detainee.

11.18 The following interviews may take place only if an officer of
superintendent rank or above considers delaying the interview will lead to
the consequences in paragraph 11.1(a) to (c), and is satisfied the
interview would not significantly harm the person’s physical or mental
state (see Annex G): 

11C  Although juveniles or people who are mentally disordered or
otherwise mentally vulnerable are often capable of providing reliable
evidence, they may, without knowing or wishing to do so, be particularly
prone in certain circumstances to provide information that may be
unreliable, misleading or self-incriminating. Special care should always be
taken when questioning such a person, and the appropriate adult should
be involved if there is any doubt about a person's age, mental state or
capacity. Because of the risk of unreliable evidence it is also important to
obtain corroboration of any facts admitted whenever possible. Paragraph
1.5A extends this Note to 17-year-old suspects.

ANNEX A

2B.  … In the case of juveniles, mentally vulnerable or mentally disordered
suspects, the seeking and giving of consent must take place in the
presence of the appropriate adult. …

11(c) ... except in cases of urgency, where there is risk of serious harm to
the detainee or to others, whenever a strip search involves exposure of
intimate body parts, there must be at least two people present other than
the detainee, and if the search is of a juvenile or mentally disordered or
otherwise mentally vulnerable person, one of the people must be the
appropriate adult. 

ANNEX E

1 If an officer has any suspicion, or is told in good faith, that a person of
any age may be mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, or
mentally incapable of understanding the significance of questions or their
replies that person shall be treated as mentally disordered or otherwise
mentally vulnerable for the purposes of this Code. See paragraph 1.4 and
Note E4 

UNRELIABLE CONFESSIONS

Unreliable confessions were also given a broad interpretation by the Court of Appeal in R v
Fulling:

    • Confessions obtained as the result of an inducement - for example a promise of bail or a promise that a prosecution would not arise from the confession;
    • Hostile and aggressive questioning;
    • Failure to record accurately what was said;
    • Failure to caution;
    • Failure to provide an appropriate adult where one is required;
    • Failure to comply with the Code of Practice in relation to the detention of the accused - for example a failure to allow sufficient rest prior to an interview;
    • Failure of the Defence Solicitor or Appropriate Adult to act properly - for example by making interjections during interview which are hostile to the defendant. It is important that prosecutors take into consideration whether confessions can be adduced to be reliable or not by the Courts.

NOTE: The final point here about Appropriate Adults failing to act properly is a serious concern, given that few appropriate adults provided by the statutory sector (as opposed to friends or relatives acting in that capacity) will have skills or training to understand the vulnerability of those who are autistic. It is the same with the role of the Health Care Professional in custody suites. Nurses and doctors who are responsible for assessing whether a mentally vulnerable adult is fit for detention and interview, often have little or no knowledge of autism, or worse, have a close working relationship with the police or are even employed by them. Same goes for Duty Solicitors called in by the police. And so even where PACE is properly followed, safeguarding often beaks down through lack of awareness or indifference.


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FOOTNOTE 1


Hamja Ahsan’s Shy Radicals is a tragi-comic parody of a political manifesto for an imaginary state named Aspergistan. A natural sanctuary for the shy, the introverted and the autistic, away from the tyranny of the noisy extraverts who dominate and create misery for autistic folk across the globe (not that autistic people do not sometimes present as extrovert). The book opens with a draft constitution, examples of which are presented below in true Cynic style (I use the term cynic here in its positive definition as a personal strategy for surviving in a hostile world):

ARTICLE 8: Mainstream life has no place in Aspergistan. All politics will remain underground.

ARTICLE 11: Any declarations, resolutions and motions made on a stage or raised platform will be seen not to represent the people.

ARTICLE 18: No one shall be required to attend or perform at social gatherings.

ARTICLE 21: The Shy Radical state declares the following a charade and part of Extrovert Supremacist ideology from which Aspergistanis seek emancipation: Patriotic public ceremonies; Military parades; … Shallow mythologising of historical conflicts and tragedies; Street parties and flashing fireworks displays.

ARTICLE 22: The flag of Aspergistan consist of a black flag punctuated [with ellipsis] … The flag will never be publicly hoisted. The flag may be used only by citizens wishing to silently indicate their request for quiet, solitude and personal space. …

ARTICLE 23: For sporting or cultural fixtures abroad, opposing or host countries will be required to listen to our national anthem using seashells. Aspergistan shall ensure the provision of a fit supply supply of seashells to the opposing team …

ARTICLE 27: Aspergistan will boycott any sporting or cultural event that does not ensure Autism-friendly facilities, or show respect to the rights of Autistic Spectrum people.

ARTICLE 30: Abolition of private viewings, opening ceremonies, launch parties and all other suffocating crowd gathering forms of the celebration of new cultural products, film seasons and exhibitions. …

ARTICLE 39: Abolition of strobe lighting, flashing lights, neon lighting and advertisement billboards from all public space ensuring the clearest possible view of the constellations. 

ARTICLE 41: Animals are not entertainment. Extrovert-Supremacist abuse of animals for the purpose of showmanship and narcissism is absolutely prohibited whether in the form of circus acts, magic tricks or cats on Facebook.

ARTICLE 60: Entry is guaranteed for all those seeking escape from the assault of mass distraction, triviality and frivolity.


FOOTNOTE 2

To return to the case of Bradley Grimes, there was a time in the world when tramping, homelessness and begging were recognised and honourable professions, not least in the birthplace of Western civilisation, Athens. Diogenes the Cynic used to beg alms of a statue to practice the art of being refused and his prowess as a beggar philosopher even impressed Alexander the Great. Jesus of Nazareth (man or myth is not the issue here), the icon of Western civilisation and to whom, paradoxically, cathedral palaces have been and are still being erected around the globe, was a tramp and beggar par excellence. In my post The Right to Tramp, I refer to Jack Kerouac’s warnings as long ago as the 1950’s of the increasing intolerance towards people begging and sleeping rough. In an essay he wrote in the 1950s, The Vanishing American Hobo, he noted that the aggressive implementation of vagrancy laws, backed up by intensive police surveillance, including the use of helicopters, meant that ‘you cant even be alone anymore in the primitive wilderness’:

In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation. — Poverty is considered a virtue among the monks of civilized nations—in America you spend a night in the calaboose if youre caught short without your vagrancy change. […] They pick on lovers on the beach even. They just dont know what to do with themselves in those five thousand dollar police cars with the two-way Dick Tracy radios except pick on anything that moves in the night and in the daytime on anything that seems to be moving independently of gasoline …

Of course, unlike Diogenes and Jesus, for most people on the autistic spectrum, begging and homelessness are not lifestyle choices, they are the harsh realities those like Bradley Grimes encounter of being autistic in a non-autistic world.

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PLEASE NOTE: Use the "Contact Form" at the very bottom of this web page if you want to be part of the support network or have a similar story and want to share it. I'd be happy to add it or help in any way I can.

My own MP led an adjournment debate on 30th January 2018 titled Treatment of Adults with Autism by the Criminal Justice System that can be watched here. It was responded to by the Policing Minister, Nick Hurd. Kevin Brennan is also working together with the Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society to raise the profile of these injustices in Parliament via the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism. Again, please use the Contact Form to get further details and press your own MP to be involved.
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