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Police response to care home resident incident ‘reasonable and proportionate’

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Relatives of a vulnerable care home resident left petrified after police were called as “a deterrent” to his clinically-recognised behavioural issues , are to a challenge a Police Ombudsman investigation which concluded the actions were ‘reasonable and proportionate’.

In what the family described as a contradictory position, the Ombudsman also determined the resident did not require an appropriate adult as he was never considered a suspect while adding there was insufficient evidence to support the complaint – something which an independent advocate could have been provided had they been present.

Just over a year ago, the Dungannon care home resident believed he would be taken away in handcuffs after an angry outburst.

Officers spoke to him accompanied by the home manager, but no independent appropriate adult present. The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority were not notified which is a requirement when police attend any incident in a care facility.

The resident suffers from multiple conditions including severe learning disability, requiring lifelong specialist care. He has spells of challenging behaviour when frustrated or upset – a common feature associated with his condition.

Documents obtained by BBC Local Democracy show staff called police to the Four Seasons Health Care facility after the resident became angry: “Hoping it would act as a deterrent”.

Afterwards a superior officer noted: “The suspect has limited/no capacity to understand the actions are wrong. He has been in care since childhood and lashed out at staff due to not receiving toast. In the circumstances I do not believe it would be possible to interview (resident) due to his impaired mental capacity.”

The incident was reported to the Police Ombudsman, who initially offered an Informal Resolution.

The family felt this indicated acceptance of wrongdoing on some level, but mindful of the terror caused and if it might happen again, refused.

An investigation commenced, which has ultimately found nothing wrong.

Instead the Ombudsman decided the relative was never considered a suspect (despite being referred to as such in police papers) so was not cautioned or arrested, therefore an appropriate adult was not required: “To explain police processes and safeguard rights.”

Rejecting this the family say: “It is entirely unacceptable to abandon protection by simply contending there would be no caution or arrest. Our relative didn’t know that. All he knew was two uniformed policemen with guns and handcuffs came into his room with the care manager. Rights are non-negotiable and don’t just conveniently kick-in and out when it suits. He was degraded and humiliated. He didn’t understand and still doesn’t. It’s a damning indictment if those contracted to deliver care are going to call police to deter clinically-recognised challenging behaviour in vulnerable adults.”

The Ombudsman also advised they had spoken to the care home manager who reported no concerns on the interaction.

Absent any other evidence the complaint was closed.

The family responded: “From the outset we said the care manager should not have been present, and certainly not without someone independent. That is subject to a complaint with Four Seasons and the Southern Trust. The Ombudsman’s response is contradictory when on one hand it speaks of no independent evidence and on the other claiming an appropriate adult was not required. This leaves us asking how many other times vulnerable people’s rights swept aside, in the knowledge they cannot meaningfully respond and an independent person is arbitrarily deemed unnecessary.”

BBC Local Democracy contacted the Police Ombudsman detailing the family’s concerns around procedures and human rights, and the critical requirement of independent third party presence.

In response, a spokesperson largely repeated the content of their reply to the complaint adding: “Having assessed the evidence we concluded the police response had been reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.”

The Ombudsman’s findings have been rejected by the relative’s family who are mounting a challenge.

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