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(Queen's Bench Division, Sir Robert Nelson, 14 March 2012)
The 19-year-old man was severely autistic, epileptic, suffered from learning disabilities and could not communicate by speech. He brought proceedings through his father, acting as his litigation friend, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Human Rights Act 1998 alleging breaches of Arts 3, 5, and/or 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950. He claimed damages and declaratory relief in respect of assault, battery, false imprisonment and unlawful disability discrimination
The young man had attended a specialist day school and when he was 16 during a school trip to the local swimming pool the young man became fixated on the water and would not move away from the water's edge despite attempts by carers and lifeguards to tempt him away. He did not like to be touched, he could not swim and had no fear of water nor any awareness of its danger.
The police were called for assistance and after one officer approached him he jumped in the water. He was removed from the pool by the lifeguards with help from the police officers, during which he slipped twice. He was then placed in handcuffs and leg restraints and was placed in a cage at the back of a police van.
The man suffered consequential psychological trauma as a result of the incident and an exacerbation of epileptic seizures.
The court found there had been a breach of the claimant's Art 3, 5 and 8 rights under the European Convention 1950 and awarded the claimant £28,250 in damages.
The police response to the situation was found to be over-hasty and ill-informed. The officers failed to consult the carers properly and when matters escalated the use of restraint was wholly inappropriate. This case highlighted the need for an awareness of autism within the public services.
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