Met Police commissioner recognises “improvements” need to be made after force loses damages appeal

20:05 14 February 2013

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has said he recognises “improvements” in policing have to be made after the Court of Appeal today upheld a £28,250 damages award to a severely autistic epileptic teenager held shackled in handcuffs and leg restraints.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe spoke after judges criticised the manner in which ZH, who cannot bear to be touched, was restrained by Met officers when he jumped into a public swimming pool fully clothed.

Lord Dyson (Master of the Rolls) said “nothing could justify the manner in which they restrained ZH”, who was left “in great distress and anguish”.

Dismissing a police appeal against the High Court damages award for human rights breaches, the judge said officers had behaved as if they were faced with an emergency when there was none.

“Had they consulted the carers, the likelihood is that ZH would not have jumped into the pool in the first place.”

Met lawyers argued that if ZH’s award for trespass to the person, assault and battery, and false imprisonment was allowed to stand, it would set a dangerous precedent and interfere with the operational discretion of the police.

Rejecting the submission, the judge declared: “Operational discretion is not sacrosanct. It cannot be invoked by the police in order to give them immunity from liability for everything that they do.”

The case arose after ZH, then 16, jumped fully clothed into Acton Baths, west London, in September 2008 and was lifted out and put in handcuffs and leg restraints and held in the back of a police van before being handed over to carers.

The court heard the restraint and detention lasted about 40 minutes, and ZH experienced “an acute level of psychological suffering and as a result of the incident suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome and an exacerbation of his epilepsy”.

Now 20, he sued the police commissioner through his father, GH, who said his son had changed from a “loveable little kid into an upset child” who did not want to bathe, shower or go into water.

Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the social enterprise Turning Point, is overseeing an independent commission into the Met’s response to mental health and is due to report in March.

A Met statement said: “Today’s judgment alongside the commission’s report will help us to examine our policies and develop our training and processes.”

The statement added that the commissioner of Police “has recognised that there are improvements to be made”.

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