"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

11 Jan 2018

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.


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.

Daniel’s Story
The following story is a summary of this Guardian report dated Wednesday 29th June 2016, and local news items.
In the early hours of the morning of 18 October 2015, Daniel Smith, who had not turned up to meet his father as arranged, arrived home bruised and shaken. Daniel had been visiting his father for the weekend and had spent the previous afternoon sitting in the local park. Allegedly, Daniel had approached two teenage girls, one of whom had been taking pictures of him, to ask a couple of innocuous questions. One of the girls phoned her father claiming that Daniel had been taking photos of children in the park. As the girl’s father later told the police, he went to the park, “to sort him out for being weird”. After punching Daniel to the ground, Daniel ran to the local police station to report being assaulted. Instead of safeguarding Daniel, the police handcuffed him and locked him up in a cell. Daniel told the police that he was autistic and wanted them to call his father but they refused his request. Daniel, clearly confused by this double assault says he felt like dying and sat in the cell holding his head and crying. 
None of the alleged photos were found on Daniel's phone, yet he was kept locked up for 9 hours then released and allowed to find his own way home. 

The complaint that Daniel’s father subsequently submitted to the IPCC included failure to acknowledge or act on Daniel’s mentally vulnerability (he told the police twice that he was autistic), to investigate the assault on Daniel amounting to a hate crime, not arranging for Daniel to be examined by a clinician in spite of his injuries and his diagnosis, and not calling an ‘appropriate adult’ (AA) or Daniel’s father in direct breach of PACE, Code C (see notes on PACE and AA’s at the end of this post). 

At the time of the news report, the IPCC said it would take them a “number of months” to fully investigate Daniel’s case—as of adding this story (06/06/2018) I am trying to make contact with the family to find out the outcome of the investigation.

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.

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—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 below

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.

Sam’s Story
Sam [not his real name] was twenty the first time he came to the attention of the police. Sam has profound anxiety about traveling on public transport that sometimes results in sensory overload and psychological meltdown. One of the ways that Sam tries to control his anxiety is by ‘stimming’, in his case, fiddling with any material within his reach as this has a calming effect. This may include unconsciously touching other people's clothing, bags, etc. (men and women), and then not having the language to explain or apologise if challenged. 
These features of Sam’s autism are compounded by poor ‘proprioception’ and ‘theory of mind’. Contact that Sam would perceive as harmless can be mis-perceived by others who do not understand stimming, sensory overload, theory of mind and poor proprioception; a description of which is provided below from a report by Sam’s former consultant psychiatrist who has an international reputation in the field of autism: 
'His account of pinching and stoking cloth is completely typical of the stimming described by more able people with ASD—the repetitive movements that are calming by their repetition. ... The exploration of contours and creases with his fingertips also fits totally into this.' 
'In this case it is completely in keeping with his stated diagnosis and rest of his statement for him to be stroking his own clothing and feel other clothing in his touch with ridges, and then to move onto exploring and rearranging that clothing, without thinking about what the other person would think about this.’
In the second incident Sam was assaulted. He was put in a headlock and dragged from the train by his hair by a vigilante to who got involved. This person was still holding Sam when police arrived on the platform but they failed to take his details or investigate the assault on Sam. They continue to dismiss the incident as a citizen's arrest using “reasonable force” without any evidence to support this. Sam did not resist in any way, neither was he attempting to leave the scene. They also failed to disclose crucial CCTV of the incident, claiming the camera was faulty.
Sam’s story is continued from the Hansard transcript (see link) of the debate that his MP, Kevin Brennan, moved in Westminster Hall on 30th January 2018:
People with autism can often exhibit specific behaviours that others categorise as unusual, such as stimming, which is a repetitive physical movement that helps reinstate a sense of calm. It is a particular trait of people with autism, and it is rarely understood by others. […] Behaviours that are seen to be unusual can sometimes be misinterpreted as antisocial or, even worse, criminal. Indeed, it has been suggested that those who are the highest functioning on the autism spectrum can often bear the brunt of such misinterpretations as their condition is not otherwise obviously visible. […] I hope the Minister will outline his views and what is being done to try to prevent people with autism from being mistakenly criminalised by that misinterpretation of that particular trait. What steps are being taken to ensure that the behaviour of those on the autistic spectrum is not misinterpreted by police and the judiciary?

When adults on the autistic spectrum come under suspicion of criminal behaviour, safeguarding becomes crucial. I want to refer to the case of a constituent of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. The safeguards in the criminal justice system did not protect him as they should have under current policy and practice. Owing to his understandable desire not to be named publicly, I will not go too far into the detailed circumstances that led to the arrest of my constituent on two different occasions. I know that Ministers are aware of the details of the case through previous meetings and correspondence. Suffice it to say that his stimming was misinterpreted while travelling in crowded conditions on public transport, and that is what led to his arrest.

My constituent declared his autism before he was arrested, which should have triggered a different pathway from a normal arrest, but he was not diverted or safeguarded at the point of contact as he should have been. On the first occasion, no appropriate adult was called, his parents were not contacted as they should have been, and he was not assessed as fit for interview. A caution was issued against him, which was later quashed due to those lapses in procedure. Unfortunately, he was arrested again three years later, and his vulnerability and protected characteristics were not properly recognised by the police or the health professional who assessed him. In other words, the reasonable adjustments that are required by law were not made during detention or subsequently, and that case was dropped without charge.” 

Kevin Brennan notes further below that the police had no evidence to convict Sam but subsequently misled the IPCC in a report from the Deputy Chief Constable by later claiming that the case was dropped on ‘Public Interest’ grounds—implying that they had evidence to convict. 

At this point in the debate Kevin Brennan notes that: “if Lord Bradley’s recommendations had been properly followed when my constituent was arrested in 2011 and 2014, the trauma that he and his family suffered could have been avoided.” Something that becomes relevant later.

However, to his [Sam’s] great distress, those erroneous allegations remain on police databases. … despite the police having acknowledged that they were inaccurate, [this] caused him very severe psychiatric harm, as was confirmed by two separate psychiatric reports. As a result, my constituent ended up giving up his job, flat and independence to return home and live with his parents … We cannot want to see such an outcome for an adult with autism who has established independence and a productive role in society in the workplace. It shows the life-changing effects that a lack of safeguarding can end up having.

The allegations remain on police records. The chief executive of the relevant NHS trust invited both the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission to send representatives to two meetings to discuss how they could help to protect my constituent from further psychiatric harm. I am sad to say that they did not attend either meeting. Even though extensive and complex complaints have been made to the relevant agencies, those made to the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission remain unresolved. My constituent and his family have grave concerns about the governance and compliance with required standards demonstrated in the handling of their complaints [see bottom of this piece].

There is no evidence that the police service involved recognised my constituent’s continuing vulnerability, or put in place plans to respond appropriately and safely in the event of further contact with him. In my view, therefore, they neglected to protect him from future risk of harm. Before the first incident, and subsequently, he was studying for a degree and travelling daily on public transport. Before the second incident, he was working full time, but his experiences and, in particular, the failure to remove or amend the allegations resulted, as was predicted by the senior medical consultants who assessed him, in serious impairment of his health and development, with a significant increase in his anxiety and impact on his functioning. As a result, he lost his employment, moved back home and is no longer able to travel independently on public transport.

In pursuing his case, my constituent and his parents have unearthed many worrying inconsistencies. For example, he was originally told by the police that the case against him was not pursued on public interest grounds, whereas the Solicitor General later confirmed that it had been dropped through a lack of evidence. Those are two very different reasons not to prosecute.

Hon. Members will recall the Commons debate on 30 November last year on mental health and suicide in the autism community, in which reference was made to recent research findings that autistic people are nine times more likely to kill themselves than the average population. For people on the autistic spectrum, contact with the criminal justice system can often come at moments of heightened anxiety. As such, it is crucial that all parties are fully informed and trained to find a solution that does not cause undue distress or, in the case of my constituent, severe psychiatric harm.”

And to highlight in just what way the police discriminate against autistic people and breach their own statutory procedures, Kevin Brennan read the following from an email sent to a colleague by a senior member of British Transport Police’s Professional Standards Department, in which the Detective Chief Inspector dismisses Sam’s parents claim that he should have been diverted prior to arrest due to his ‘protected characteristics’ under PACE: 

“I’ve read this several times and they just don’t get it do they. They continue to maintain [Sam] should have been ‘diverted’ prior to arrest. What utter rubbish!”


After 4 years of failing to get justice through the formal police complaints process—something the former IPCC managed to fragment into 10 separate complaints, all of which were then systematically rejected—Sam has now taken out a civil law claim against the police under the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Act. Sam’s family still have a list of evidence that the police breached their own procedures and lied to the IPCC, evidence which has never been investigated. They subsequently complained against the former Chief Executive of the IPCC, Lesley Longstone—who paradoxically happens to be Vice Chair of the charity Ambitious About Autism, and since leaving the IPCC, now the Chief Executive of the CPS! These complaints included IPCC breaches of the Police Reform Act, the Equality Act and their own discrimination policy. 

For instance, in response to complaints that the police had failed to provide Sam with 'reasonable adjustments', a statutory requirement, the IPCC casework manager's rationale for not upholding the complaint was to state that reasonable adjustments would have made no difference to the outcome of the investigation! The same casework manager also maintained that an assessment for Sam’s fitness for interview was valid even though it was conducted 8 days before the interview took place! And was never disclosed anyway because the police 'lost' it! 

After the Chair of the IPCC, Dame Anne Owers, failed to investigate evidence of these breaches of the law by the IPCC in its dealing of Sam’s complaints, the family submitted a complaint on Sam’s behalf about Anne Owers herself to the Home Office body responsible for commissioning the IPCC (now IOPC). They too failed to investigate the details of complaint or provide any rationale for why they concluded there was no case for Ms Owers to answer. Ann Owers subsequently moved on to another lucrative job in the prison service as National Chair of the Independent Monitoring Boards. 
All of the former IPCC Commissioner posts were scrapped in the creation of the IOPC, which appears to have been a mechanism for burying all the unfinished business of thousands of those, like Sam, caught up in a complaint service that promised much and delivered nothing but misery and injustice.
As a footnote to Sam’s story, below is part of an audiotaped meeting that Sam’s family held with the IPCC Commissioner involved in the case. She had expressed her intention to undertake an independent investigation of Sam's complaint because of the concerns she expresses below. However, the complaint was dismissed by the IPCC the week after she herself was accused of perverting the course of justice by the Metropolitan Police (in an unrelated case) and had to stand aside from her post pending investigation:
I feel that there are a number of issues that emerge from that review [the report Kevin Brennan refers to above that provided misleading information to the IPCC], that in my position as Commissioner, leaves me to be concerned about the way the process has been dealt with over the years. ... I am not satisfied that [the Chief Officer who commissioned the review] in his response has addressed all of those issues in a way that satisfies me that there is a conclusion that we can all be happy with, is safe enough for all parties. ... there are issues of discrimination which I think are of concern to the wider public, I think we do need to find a way to look at this independently […] I must advise that there is the possibility that we could decide to go down that line [independent investigation], and we could be challenged by BTP, on the grounds that they think they’ve dealt with this and actually we shouldn’t be doing that, and we will get into a bit of a, you know, a legal minefield.”

Lesson 1: following an autistic adult being apprehended by the police, make a Subject Access Request for disclosure of all records relating to the individual—particularly incident reports, crime reports and custody records. Incriminating allegations may remain on data bases even though no evidence exists to support them.

Lesson 2: be wary of using the IOPC police complaint mechanism to deliver justice—even though there is an expectation you exhaust that process before proceeding to court; experience of FaCA members is that apart from the fact that the process is designed to protect the police rather than hold them accountable, the process itself discriminates against autistic people and is inaccessible to them: e.g. the police can take over 6 months to investigate a complaint (the IPCC over a year) yet you are only given 28 days to appeal! 

NOTE: see list here (paragraph 10) of IPCC failures reported to Parliament by the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2013. There is no evidence that these same failures have ever been addressed and evidence from families suggests that these same failures continue under the newly branded IOPC.

Guilty by Association

The further stories that follow illustrate the terrible injustices of young autistic men being given life sentences for crimes they did not commit and could never have been charged with had they been acting alone. 

A straight forward charge of murder requires forensic evidence as well as ‘mens rea' (intention or knowledge of wrong doing), but the 300 year old common law of ‘Joint Enterprise’ meant that a person could be convicted of murder simply because they were at or near the scene, or, of an association with the actual murderer, regardless of any forensic evidence linking them to the actual crime, or of mens rea. In Joint Enterprise, the prosecution only needs to prove that someone associated with the actual killer could have foreseen that someone might be harmed or killed—hardly the same threshold as killing and intention to kill.

The use of the Joint Enterprise law was resurrected in recent years following a series of gang killings and knife crimes such as the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Ben Kinsella. But while few would have any sympathy for a group of armed youths deliberately going out with the intention of causing serious physical harm to someone, why should such a law be used to sweep up innocent bystanders who might have some connection with the actual killer and happen to be in the vicinity at the time, even though they could not possibly have had any knowledge that a crime would take place? 

Add to this scenario that the bystander is autistic or otherwise mentally vulnerable, gets arrested and interviewed by the police without the safeguard of having an Appropriate Adult present—in direct breach of PACE Code C, there to prevent vulnerable adults being coerced or asked leading questions likely to incriminate them—then tragic miscarriages of justice are bound to follow and the lives of even more families ruined. That is what happened in the following two stories (more to be added).

The campaigning organisation Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) currently support around 650 prisoners, some as young as 13. 

It is estimated there are approximately 4,500 men, women and children mostly from the BAME community serving long sentences under joint enterprise, usually life, for crimes they did not commit. This number continues to increase month on month with a recent surge in the number of child lifers.

Alex’s Story

'The right to a fair trial is a basic human right. I worry that, in respect of these cases, our courts are too keen to block appeals by those who might have been convicted by error of the courts. Such behaviour serves only to undermine our faith in the justice system. There is a tendency in Britain to believe that we have the best criminal justice system in the world. I put it to the House that our attitude to the British crime and justice system is riddled with a complacency that is wholly unjustified. That view would be borne out by any fair-minded person who focused on joint enterprise.’
Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell speaking in the UK Parliament
after visiting Alex in prison shortly after his conviction 

Alex with his sister Charlotte
The following is a summary of a report concerning Alex from The Justice Gap websiteOther reports of Alex’s case are also available in the public domain, including the BBC documentary 'Guilty by Associationand Chapter 10 of Jon Robins' book 'Guilty until Proven Innocent’.

In 2013, Alex Henry’s mother received a phone call from Croydon Police to tell her that they had arrested her son for murder. Sally Halsall describes how she will never forget the sheer terror in her son’s voice when the custody officer handed the phone over to Alex, the worst pain she has ever felt.

On August 6th, 2013 Alex and three friends were shopping in Ealing Broadway. Two of the other boys separated and walked a short distance to one of their homes where they were confronted by a group of four older boys. The groups were strangers to each other.

It was as Alex and the other boy made their way back to join their friends that they became aware of the altercation with the other group of boys, one of whom had removed his belt to use the metal buckle as a weapon.

Alex ran to his friend’s defence as one of his friends was being punched repeatedly by one of the older boys. Alex picked up his friend’s mobile phone from the ground and threw it at the other boy’s head in an attempt to protect his friend. The other boy continued the assault, lacerating Alex’s friend’s ear with his belt buckle. Alex punched the other boy once and another of his friends actively tried to prevent the violence.

The violence lasted less 40 seconds but in that time one of the boys with Alex put his hand inside his JD sports bag where, unbeknown to his friends, he had concealed a knife. He never took the knife out of the bag but stabbed two of the other boys before fleeing the scene. Evidence emerged later that no one present during the fight, including the boys who were stabbed, realised until after the affray that there had been a stabbing, assuming that they had simply been punched. One of the boys who had been stabbed died later in hospital from his injuries. The trial started in February 2014 at the Old Bailey and lasted six weeks. Alex’s mother Sally reports:

His friend changed his plea to guilty and admitted both stabbings. I cried with joy, after all the jury would know now wouldn’t they? But I listened with horror as the prosecutor weaved his stories to persuade the jury that Alex was “that kind of boy” who knew exactly what would happen because “friends tell each other everything. It felt surreal, as if I were surrounded by actors who were playing a game with my son’s life.’ 

In spite of the fact there was no evidence against Alex except for his presence at the scene of the stabbing, the judge sentenced Alex to 19 years. His presence alone resulted in him being given the minimum mandatory life sentence which means he will serve every single one of those 19 years before he gets parole—and then only if he shows remorse for a crime he didn’t commit. Alex’s mother again:

When the foreman of the jury said ‘guilty’ everything sounded muffled. I kept repeating to my daughter Charlotte over and over again: ‘What did they say?’ Yet I had heard because I could hear my own wailing, my pulse in my ears, like I was drowning and falling. I could not move. I could not breathe and all the time I could hear screaming from another mother and feel the hands of security guards who were trying to remove me.

And so began a four year ordeal for Alex and his family to appeal and challenge the judgement, torment that continues up to the time of writing this piece in June 2018. At the time of his arrest also, Alex’s girlfriend was pregnant with their babyAlex's daughter, now four has only ever seen her father in jail. The first leave to appeal was turned down in December 2014 followed by the wait for what many had hoped would be a landmark case, the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of R v Jogee that might raise the burden of proof from mere association with the actual killer or simply presence at the scene. This judgement in 2016, effectively reversed the law of Joint Enterprise, signalling hope for thousands of prisoners, some convicted as children, who hoped to appeal their life sentences. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the change in the law could not apply retrospectively, and the cases of all those who had been serving sentences under the Joint Enterprise law for the previous thirty years were denied the right to appeal. The first 13 test cases applied for permission to appeal in November 2016—all 13 were dismissed by the appeal court. Sally Halsall describes these ramifications of the change in the law in detail in her article.

In the meantime, however, Alex had been diagnosed with autism and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen agreed to act pro-bono as an expert witness at Alex's appeal on the grounds of autism, specifically Alex’s mental vulnerability and the absurdity of him being able to predict the actions of another.  In June 2017 the Court of Appeal heard Alex's Leave (permission) to Appeal and when the prosecution failed to call their own expert witness, the family’s hopes lifted but the prosecution proceeded to ridicule and undermine Baron-Cohen’s evidence, claiming, among other things, that because Alex’s mother had a PhD in psychology, she had somehow coached Alex to present autistic behaviours to dupe Professor Simon Baron-Cohen into making his diagnosis and evidence! 

That Professor Baron-Cohen's role as an expert witness appears to be systematically rubbished by the CPS, as evidenced below by a point MP Barry Sheerman's made in a Parliamentary Debate on 30th January 2018, should be a matter of major concern to those similarly seeking expert witnesses to give evidence in the defence of people on the autistic spectrum:

“Professor Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge is probably the best-known expert on autism in the country. In the recent case of Lauri Love [discussed below], who is in danger of being sent to the United States where he will almost certainly be in danger of committing suicide, the professor’s evidence was dismissed out of hand. In fact, he was attacked as an expert when he was in court. Does my hon. Friend agree that professionals who know about autism have been disregarded in a number of cases?”

When Alex and his co-defendants’ Judgments were handed down (alongside the other case of McGill and 13 and 14 year old brothers Hewitt and Hewitt), the Court of Appeal upheld the prosecution case on all counts, effectively slamming the door shut on further appeals based on the mental vulnerability of defendants in Joint Enterprise rulings. All the Leave to Appeals were refused. 

Alex’s sister has since qualified in the law and Alex now has a new legal team. They intend to devote the rest of their lives to getting justice for Alex and take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

Trewen’s Story

Trewen with his sisters
Like many adults on the autistic spectrum, Trewen was diagnosed late in life. He had been diagnosed with epilepsy and dyspraxia at an early age, was statemented in school and was given speech therapy and physiotherapy. But although the family were told that Trewen probably had autism, getting a diagnosis was impossible at the time and the family decided to concentrate on Trewen's strengths rather than give him any more more labels. The significance of here is that specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia are 'protected characteristics' under PACE requiring the presence of an 'appropriate adult', and so the fact that Trewen did not have a diagnosis of autism at the time he was arrested was no reason to deny him an appropriate adult, and the police were in breach of PACE by denying him one.

This is Trewen's story:

On Christmas eve 2013, Trewen Kevern's mother’s cousin, Kevin Cooper, was thrown out of his parents’ home and had no were to stay. Trewen's sister, Tammy, offered to let him sleep on her couch until he found somewhere else to stay. This was the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare that would end in Trewen being sentenced for 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

During the time he spent with Tammy, Cooper became acquainted with a 72 year old man, David Anderson, who lived in the flat above Tammy’s. Alderson had been ‘adopted’ by Trewen’s family and was affectionally referred to by Trewen, his sister and her two small sons as ‘Grandad’. Although Trewen lived with his parents, he frequently visited his sister and nephews at his sister’s flat where Alderson ate his meals and used the washing machine.

Alderson had a boat and Trewen would often accompany him to collect things, help him with chores and make road trips to the local tip. Alderson was a generous man who would help anyone in need. Shortly after Cooper arrived on the scene Alderson gave him £1000 to help him out. Cooper, who had mental health and drug abuse problems, became aware that Anderson had a safe in his flat containing a substantial amount of money. Alderson was also an avid gun collector and member of the Penzance gun club. Cooper told Alderson that he was able to acquire some guns that Alderson was interested in acquiring, and so began the plot that would lead to Alderson’s murder.

Cooper and Alderson had arranged to collect the guns on the 17th of January 2014. As usual, Trewen went to his sister’s flat that evening to visit her and his nephews. That evening, Alderson asked Trewen if he would accompany him and Cooper to collect some stuff. Perhaps Alderson did not entirely trust Cooper and felt safer having Trewen along. But whatever the reason, the three set off in Alderson’s car that evening. It wasn’t until on their way that Trewen overheard Cooper and Anderson discussing the gun deal. Trewen wanted to go home but they were already near the destination. On arriving at the place, Trewen said he didn’t want to go with them and stayed stayed in the car.

After waiting some time it started to get dark and Trewen, being frightened of the dark, went in search of the other two men because he wanted to go home. Eventually Trewen came across Cooper and asked where ‘Grandad’ was, at which point Cooper said that he had killed him. Cooper took Trewen to where Alderson was lying face down in a pool of water. When Trewen bent down to try and pull Alderson from the water, Cooper pushed him to the ground and threatened him that if he told anyone what he had seen he would kill Trewen’s sister Tammy and her young sons. Cooper then drove Trewen back to Falmouth, dropped him off, and returned to Alderson’s flat where he emptied the contents of the safe, a sum of around £40,000.

Cooper, part of a Cornish Romany/traveller community, brought the money to Trewen’s house where he hid it to keep it safe. To explain to Trewen’s mother how he had come by the money he told her that it was money owed to him by the Lees family of Carharrack. When Trewen’s mother questioned him about the event, Trewen told her the story that Cooper had made him rehearse: that the three men had driven to Carharrack, Trewen got out of the car and stayed in the village while Cooper and Alderson went to buy the guns, they then drove back and dropped Trewen off at his parent’s house before continuing back to his and Trewen’s sister’s flat where Cooper had been staying. The story  continues that later Cooper and Trewen went to the Lees caravan site and Trewen waited at the top of the lane while Cooper went to get money that the Lees owed him—a way of explaining how he had acquired such a large sum of money.

It wasn't until the following Sunday, 19th January, that news was reported on TV that a body had been found matching the description of Alderson who had not been seen for a couple of days. Cooper had told Trewen’s family that Alderson was spending a couple of days on his boat. On Monday the 20th January Trewen’s father identified the body and Trewen’s mother confronted Cooper and said she was going to contact the police. Cooper took the money and went on the run. The following day Trewen's mother contacted the police to tell them she thought that Cooper might be involved in someway in Alderson's death. The absurdity is that at first the police refused to believe her, they were convinced that Alderson’s injuries had been sustained in a complex bicycle accident. 

The family were later informed by a solicitor that if they had not contacted the police, Alderson’s death would have simply be put down to an accident and no murder investigation would ever have have taken place!

Wednesday 22nd January, the following day, the police interviewed Trewen at the house and when his father told the officer that Trewen had dyspraxia and autism he was told to “shut up”.  At Trewen’s second interviewa videotaped ‘achieving best evidence’ (ABE) interview, at this point as a witness—he was again refused an ‘appropriate adult’ or his parents to be with him even though the police where aware of Trewen's specific learning difficulty and had been in contact with Social Services. The interviewing officers would have been fully aware that Trewen was a ‘vulnerable adult’ under PACE (see notes re. PACE at bottom). Police conducted a second interview during a road trip they made with Trewen to identify the sight of the murder. Trewen could not find the location and instead took the police to the Lees’ gypsy camp as this is where Cooper had told Trewen to say he had got the money. Again Trewen was denied an appropriate adult during this interview and was also asked by the police to sign documents. 

By the 24th February police had full access to Trewen’s medical records identifying him as vulnerable even though he did not have a firm diagnosis of autism at the time (he has since). At both interviews Trewen made false statements to protect his sister and her children from the threats made by Cooper. Trewen was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the murder in July 2014 and although he did have an appropriate adult on this occasion, the AA was someone with no knowledge of Trewen and it was his first (and last) client as an AA. The AA subsequently told the family that he was out of his depth and did not know what he was doing.

Cooper was subsequently arrested for murder and a court date set for November 2014. In the meantime, Trewen was also charged and bailed to a different address. This was because his family and girlfriend were prevented from having any contact with him as they had been called as witnesses by the prosecution—even though Trewen had been allowed to stay at home previously under his first bail. He ended up spending only ten days on remand. For the rest of the time, nearly two years, Trewen remained electronically tagged out in the community—on bail for murder—but collecting kids from school and delivering hampers to the elderly with the church, yet still unable to have contact with his family.

At Trewen’s first trial in 2015, the CPS withheld evidence that could have cleared Trewen, of a covert audio-recording of Cooper in prison telling his parents that he had two men out on the road who could blow Trewen’s sister’s head off if Trewen incriminated him. At the retrial in 2016 Cooper took the stand and blamed Trewen for the murder. The judge acknowledged that the police had made mistakes in interviewing Trewen originally but then Trewen was put through an ordeal lasting hours, grilling him about the original texts. Trewen first said that he could not remember and then provided explanations simply to please them and end his ordeal.

Several people took the stand, including an ex-prisoner who cut short a holiday abroad to attend the hearing. He gave evidence that he had overheard Cooper admitting to the killing and also of his intention to blame Trewen for the crime. When the time came for Cooper to be cross examined by the defence he refused. The defence then asked for the trial to be halted but the judge refused and insisted in the trial going ahead. 

The family were then informed that Trewen could not be tried on his own for the murder and so remains guilty simply by association. The CPS have no evidence linking Trewen to the crime, they just maintain that he lied to cover up his involvement. There is no evidence that Trewen had any prior knowledge of the events that subsequently took place or that he took part in the actual killing. 

The family maintain that if Trewen should be found guilty of anything at all, it would be for perverting the course of justice. But then Cooper continues with his threats against Trewen’s sisters life, and Tammy has had to move house twice because of actual threats to her family. On one occasion an ex-cell mate of Cooper’s went to her flat and tried to get into her young boys’ room. Even though the police are aware of these threats they have failed to put markers on Tammy’s address. They also refused to support Tammy’s application with the Council for a move. Instead, Tammy was supported by a group set up to support families to deal with traumatic deaths. She moved a second time because the same ex-cell mate of Cooper’s was seen in the road outside the boys school. Both Trewen and Cooper were being held in different wings of Exeter prison and there is evidence that Cooper has promised large sums of money to anyone who could get into Trewen’s cell to find out where his sister is living. Neither the judge or jury were ever made aware of these facts.

A new legal team is now working on further appeals.


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.


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.


         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.


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. 


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 were also given a broad interpretation by the Court of Appeal in R v

    • 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.



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.


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.


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.


  1. Thanks for mentioning my book Shy Radicals -
    people interested can get a copy here https://www.bookworks.org.uk/node/1917

  2. the system has totally let my autistic son down , no safeguarding and in my opinion and that of others led to his 20year min sentence of a crime he didn't commit or forsee under joint enterprise , all we can do is fight to prove his innocence but in the mean time we pray god keeps him safe godbless you trewen xxxx

  3. The system has totally let our Trewen down. There was no safeguarding offered to Trewen which is despicable. Is being worked alongside Trewen I found him to be the most gentle kind caring young man. He has not a bad bone in his body. We will all fight till we get him home where he belongs. He's a very timid young man I pray that God keeps him safe until that time . It's disgusting that this gentle giant is locked up with real criminals. TREWEN IS 100% innocent. This is unfair and unjust and he belongs home with his loving family who have raised him to be such a loving gentle caring person.