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IPCC Criticises Sussex Police’s Treatment of Disabled 11-Year-Old Girl

Mother Calls For Police To Stop Using ‘Spit Hoods’ On Children


The mother of an 11-year-old girl who was arrested three times for minor offences and held in cells for a total of 60 hours despite suffering from a disability has called for improvements in the way Sussex Police interact with disabled children.


She instructed expert civil liberties lawyers at national law firm Irwin Mitchell to investigate the treatment her daughter received from Sussex Police in the hope of improving conditions in the region.


The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has today released its findings following a complaint by the mother, which concluded that the force failed to appoint an appropriate adult to support the girl, known as ‘Child H’ for legal reasons, and that officers failed to record the reason they used handcuffs, leg restraints and spit hoods on the child.


The girl suffers from a neurological condition manifesting in symptoms similar to autism. Symptoms can include temper tantrums, impulsivity and anxiety.


Between February and March 2012 Child H came into contact with Sussex Police officers on five occasions. An IPCC investigation into the treatment received by Child H and her mother, identified as Ms H, found it was not acceptable.


The IPCC investigation found that on one occasion officers handcuffed Child H “pre-emptively” without arresting her and that Sussex Police officers failed to make enough effort to gain Child H’s compliance before they laid hands on her.  The IPCC found that these actions triggered a chain of events that led to the girl’s arrest and detention in custody.


The independent review also found that Sussex Police failed to provide Child H with an ‘appropriate adult’ while she was detained, in breach of the requirement that all children should be supported by such a person (normally their parent) when in custody. 


The IPCC concluded there had been a “widespread failure by Sussex police officers to document their use of force in relation to Child H”. The investigation report described this as a “very worrying failure in that it indicates a lack of appreciation of their own accountability; using force on a person so young and vulnerable is a grave occurrence that should be treated with the significance it merits.”


Ms H said: “My daughter’s contact with the police in 2012 was nothing short of a nightmare for both of us. At the time her disability meant that she could behave in very challenging ways, but what she needed was patience, respect and the support of her mother. Instead she was locked up in a police station without me or anyone else who knew her for support.


“I know that some of the officers were doing their best, but I cannot understand why others thought it was appropriate to put an 11-year-old girl in handcuffs and leg restraints. I can’t accept that it will ever by be appropriate for the police to hood a disabled child, regardless of how they behave. I call on Sussex Police to stop doing this to children immediately.”


Gus Silverman, a civil liberties solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, who is acting for Child H and Ms H said:


Expert Opinion
“The systemic failings uncovered by the IPCC’s investigation are truly shocking. Child H was detained for a cumulative total of 60 hours in various police stations. During this time every Sussex Police custody sergeant and Inspector involved in her care failed to call an appropriate adult, most obviously her mother, to support her.

“In the last Queen’s Speech the Government undertook to ban the use of police cells as places of safety for those under 18 years of age. This commitment must now be put in effect as soon as possible.

“My client calls on the Chief Constable of Sussex Police to commission an independent expert in managing challenging behaviour to review the extremely intrusive form of restraints used against Child H by officers in this case. It is a particular matter of concern that the IPCC felt unable to uphold Ms H’s complaint regarding the uses of ‘spit hoods’ on her daughter as this supposedly accorded with force policy that any spitting will always justify hooding.”
Gus Silverman, Solicitor


The IPCC’s made a number of recommendations to the force following the investigation, which included the improvement of training on the use of force on children and adults with mental ill health, additional training on the role of appropriate adults and ensuring police officers are accountable for their use of force.

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