The Court of Appeal has rejected a police bid to overturn a £28,250 damages award made to a severely autistic epileptic teenager restrained by officers after jumping fully clothed into a public swimming pool.
The Metropolitan Police argued that if the award for trespass to the person, assault and battery, and false imprisonment was allowed to stand, it would set a dangerous precedent for policing. Police lawyers warned it would lead to officers being advised to be "wary and defensive" when attending emergencies involving those suffering from a disability or mental illness.
The case arose after "ZH", then aged 16, plunged in jacket and trousers into Acton Baths, west London, in 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.
ZH, now 20, 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.
Dismissing the Met appeal, Lord Dyson (Master of the Rolls), sitting with two other judges, said "nothing could justify the manner in which (the police) restrained ZH".
The judge rejected the submission that the decision to find the Met liable and award damages interfered with the operational discretion of the police, or made practical policing impossible. 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."
But he expressed "some sympathy" for the police in Thursday's case, saying they were "intent on securing the best interests of everyone, not least ZH". Lord Justice Richards and Lady Justice Black unanimously agreed with Lord Dyson's judgment.
Later ZH's solicitor Tony Murphy, of Bhatt Murphy, described it as a "landmark" decision. He said: "The ongoing refusal of the Commissioner to learn from this terrible incident can only be understood as a failure of leadership. It provides yet another example of a vulnerable person being let down by the criminal justice system, on this occasion at the very highest level."
ZH's father said: "Sir Bernard has refused to apologise to my son and refused to agree that officers should not shackle children with disabilities in similar circumstances. This makes me afraid for my son and others with disabilities.
"My family would much rather that the hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money used by the commissioner to fight this case had been used to train his police officers to humanely treat people with disabilities."