We represented a woman, JH, in a successful civil claim for compensation against the Gloucestershire police. JH is a 52-year-old woman who has struggled for two years with mental health problems, including PTSD, dissociation, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
On the evening of 15 October 2012, JH was referred by the police to the accident and emergency department at her local hospital. She waited for approximately three hours before seeing a doctor, who treated her left wrist for a superficial cut. Throughout her wait she was quiet and withdrawn. JH felt that it would not help to stay and so self-discharged shortly after midnight.
Concerned for her safety
The hospital staff were concerned for her safety and so called the police. Two police officers attended JH’s home that morning. She had cut herself again, and was escorted willingly back to hospital by the police.
JH arrived at the accident and emergency department at 2.30 am and was told to wait because there were no beds were available. She left the hospital after an hour or so without having seen a doctor.
Shortly after having left the hospital JH spoke with the police. She said she did not want to go back to the hospital or see the police again, but would take herself to a friend’s address for her own safety. She received a further text message from the police, checking on her wellbeing. JH called the police back, explaining that she had been out for a walk and was home again, and that she didn’t wish to be sectioned.
The police attended JH’s home again. An officer told JH that she would be taken to a psychiatric hospital. JH became distressed. She asked to be taken to accident and emergency instead. The officers refused and insisted that JH must attend a psychiatric hospital.
JH retreated away from the officer. The officer took hold of JH’s arms. She attempted to release herself by dropping to the floor. She adopted a submissive, non-threatening stance on the floor. The officer forced her to her feet by holding her upper arms, causing JH pain.
JH was told that she was being detained under s136 of Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983. She told the officers that this power could not be used to detain someone in their own home. The officer replied that he would rely on s5. He did not specify the legislation relied on.
Placed alone in a police van
Police forcibly removed JH from her home and was placed alone in a cage in a police van.
At the psychiatric hospital the staff were concerned that JH’s detention was unlawful. JH was detained until an assessment could be carried out. She found the experience of being detained so distressing that she attempted to injure herself again. She was released after nearly six hours as not requiring detention under the MHA.
We successfully argued that JH’s forcible removal from her home – and her escort to and detention at the psychiatric hospital on 16 October 2012 – amounted to false imprisonment, assault, negligence, and misfeasance in public office by the police. We settled the case with a payment of damages for the distress and injury JH suffered, as well as a letter of apology from the police. JH paid the majority of the compensation to a suicide crisis charity.
JH said: “This was a difficult case to bring – emotionally difficult and stressful. Nancy Collins and Alice Cullingworth dealt with the case (and dealt with me) with great sensitivity. I had offers from other legal firms to take my case, but I chose Nancy because she always treated me with respect, and displayed empathy and concern. For me personally, it is a very good outcome that 80% of the money received in settlement has gone to a suicide crisis charity that will help people who are at risk of suicide. I don’t think there could be a better outcome.”
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