The ‘SLAM’ incident at the Royal Bethlem Hospital, Beckenham, October 2012

The following article was published in the Independent news today (8th May 2015). I had been researching this for its shocking disablist incident, as patients had mental health or autism & other disabilities, and many were innocent patients who suddenly found themselves faced with armed Met Police from its Territorial Support Group.
 
The original investigation (not explained at all in the Independent News) arose from inconsistencies in a minor local news report when the Met Police claimed a small police unit from Bromley had attended the incident and made out it was rather nothing more than an out of the way police involvement. The newspaper was not informed that the Territorial Support Group had been in attendance.
 
Yet patients (as witnesses) in the health units claimed they had been faced with armed police and patrol dogs, and this set off the quest to find the truth. Much of the investigation was done by David Mery, who is an autistic.
 
Whilst the Indy article doesn’t examine the issue from a stronger disability perspective it does at least relate quite comprehensively to this horrific incident which, despite its massive deployment of police units and took place over several days, has barely ever made the news.

SLAM of course refers to South London and Maudsley NHS trust, who are one of the country’s leading autism specialists.

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Campaigners accuse Met Police and mental health trust of racist cover-up

Exclusive: Charity demands full report into use of police in riot gear in hospital ward disturbance
PAUL GALLAGHER

Friday 08 May 2015

A mental health trust and the Metropolitan Police have been accused of trying to cover up alleged racism towards patients during an extraordinary night when 48 officers – some in riot gear – were deployed to deal with disturbances in a ward of vulnerable adults.

Campaigners have spent three years trying to uncover what happened at the River House facility at Bethlem Royal Hospital, part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, on 1 October 2012.

Several days of disturbances escalated into a riot, the ringleaders of which were four patients, three black and one white. They had placed staff under siege which required police intervention before control could be regained.

The Met sent in 48 officers, including armed and dog units. More than 20 officers entered the ward including several Tactical Support Group (TSG) officers in “strict, compact riot formation” armed with Tasers, shields, visors and batons.

Campaigners have spent three years trying to uncover the truth behind the incident in October 2012.

An independent report into the disturbances commissioned by the trust said: “According to staff statements, the police, after entering the unit, ignored the request of staff to treat Patient C (a white patient) the same way as they had treated the three black patients.“Staff state that the police made no attempt to coordinate their actions with [hospital] staff as is standard practice during a siege, to gain information and to help them plan their strategy in order to minimise disruption to the unit.”

Police, assisted by hospital staff, escorted the three black patients (Patients A, B and D) to solitary confinement, handcuffing two of them. Officers also placed a clear plastic cover over Patient B’s head preventing him from moving his head and shoulders. “He was initially ignored by police until several promptings by staff,” the trust report said.

Patient C, the only white patient of the four, was not handcuffed and allowed to stay in the television lounge despite staff insisting to police he was also “a significant player in the disturbance” and that being left on the ward could lead to another disturbance – which it did.

Immediately after police left, around 3am, another patient, E, demanded an explanation as to why Patient C had remained on the ward. The report said: “Patient E believed that there was a racial motive which led to staff assisting the police to place three black patients in supervised confinement, while a white patient was treated more favourably.”

Despite explanations, Patient E became increasingly agitated and hostile and threatened to kill staff and patient C. “This led to a second siege when staff lost control of the ward for a second time. Police assistance was required again before staff could regain control of the clinical area,” said the report.

Eleven officers returned and “dealt with the situation promptly”. By 5am full control was restored.

A 111-page report was completed in May 2013 and a summary published that August. An “unreadable” version was only made public in May 2014 following Freedom of Information requests made by David Mery on behalf of the charity Black Mental Health UK. Almost all the allegations of racism and the patients’ ethnicity had been censored.

Mr Mery appealed and the trust was forced to publish the report again earlier this year detailing the accusations of racism as well as Scotland Yard’s refusal to engage with hospital staff. Around 30 pages remain completely redacted.

A paragraph initially redacted said: “It took eight weeks to secure material from the Metropolitan Police. Requests for further and better particulars have been unsuccessful, despite reminders on matters which were explored at interview with an inspector from Bromley borough police.”

Mental health campaigners say it was only luck that prevented staff or patients being injured that night.

The Met Police had previously been heavily criticised for their actions at the same hospital in September 2010. Then, Olaseni Lewis, a 23-year-old Kingston University postgraduate student, died after being forcibly restrained by up to 11 officers while seeking help as a voluntary patient. Five years on his family are still waiting to hear when an inquest into his death will be held.

Addressing the 2012 incident, Mr Mery told The Independent: “The cover up, with the trust releasing conflicting statements and deliberately attempting to avoid the release of its investigation report (and still refusing to name its authors), and the Metropolitan Police losing its own report, demonstrate that neither organisation is keen to take responsibility for what happen and ensure that it won’t happen again.

“Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to have been a specific investigation into the racist behaviour described in the report. NHS trusts and police forces should have an obligation to publish reports into serious incidents publicly, promptly and in their entirety. However, the police have lost the incident management log for what they have classified as a critical incident.”

The police have said they were concerned that the staff on the ward that night were unaware of any contingency plan other than to call them on such an occasion. Operation Metallah, a new way of the Met to work with the mental health trust, was launched a few months later.

Mr Mery said: “The tactics that resulted in the deployment at a mental health unit of armed officers, dog units, and TSG officers.

The fudge report: Crucial details obscured[NB xxxx represents details such as names mentioned in the copy but redacted in the ‘Final 10th May 2010 Report’]

‘Staff under siege’

Incident 1: escalated to a riot (as defined by BDP CAG – Major Incident Protocol and Procedures, February 2012), involved xxxxxxxxx who opportunistically placed staff under siege in the nursing station which required police intervention before nursing staff could regain control of the clinical environment. The antecedent to this incident stemmed from one patient, xxxxxxxxx. This incident resulted in damage to property but no physical injury to staff. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. The fourth patient, xxxxxxxxx, was initially left on the ward, despite concerns raised by staff that this could lead to further disturbance.

‘Increasingly agitated’

Incident 2: followed on almost immediately from the first incident, when xxxxxxxxx approached staff demanding an explanation as to why xxxxxxxxx had remained on the ward. Xxxxxxxxx believed that there was a racial motive xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Notwithstanding explanation from staff, xxxxxxxxx became increasingly agitated and hostile and threatened to kill staff and xxxxxxxxx. This led to a second siege when staff lost control of the ward for a second time. Police assistance was required again before staff could regain control of the 12 Independent Report – Norbury incidents, night of 1st October 2012 clinical area. This incident also resulted in damage to property. Xxxxxxxxx sustained minor injury to his hand. There were no physical injuries to staff.

‘Threatening and abusive’

Xxxxxxxxx had, by this time, calmed down considerably and although remained verbally threatening and abusive, obeyed police instruction, sitting on the floor with his arms above his head allowing the police to handcuff him. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. He was initially ignored by the police until several promptings by staff. He was escorted by xxxxxxxxx on Norbury Ward.

Independent
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An article recently discovered (10th June 2015) is this from Minority Perspective:
Alarm at armed police officers being called onto mental health wards

January 21st, 2014 | Author: Mark WatsonBy Black Mental Health UK

Tonight’s BBC Panorama programme on the Met Police’s Specialist Firearms Command Unit following a number of people who have been killed by armed officers comes at a time when human rights campaigns group Black Mental Health UK have learnt that armed police been sent to mental health wards.

This shocking revelation and has come to light after a number of Freedom of Information (FOI’s) request were made to the Metropolitan Police involving an incident where specialist TSG (Territorial Support Group) riot officers were called to ‘River House’ a secure mental health ward run by South London and Maudsley (SLAM) NHS Trust, just weeks after the verdict of the high-profile Sean Rigg Inquest in 2012.

A heavily redacted report published by SLAM over a year after this incident took place, makes no reference to TSG riot police or the Armed Response Unit that attended the hospital during this incident.

BMH UK has learnt through a FOI response from London’s Metropolitan Police (see attached) that in 2012 a total of 48 police officers attended the mental health ward at SLAM.

The team of police officers included:

3 Inspectors
4 Sergeants
10 Police Constables from the response team at Bromley
21 Police Constables from the Territorial Support Group. (TSG)
6 Police Officers in two vehicles from the Armed Response Unit (ARV)
2 Police Officers from the Dog Unit (with two dogs)
1 Detective Sergeant,
1 Detective Constable from Bromley

Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said:

‘This shocking revelation has reinforced concerns from many quarters of the community that detained psychiatric wards are not safe places for black people: We don’t know if anyone was bitten, tasered or shot. Knowing armed officers that are trained to shoot to kill are attending calls made by mental health staff raises serious human rights concerns.”

SLAMs heavily redacted report on this incident gives no indication of the seriousness of what happened. What we can see from the Met FOI response is mental health providers reliance on specialist police to deal with vulnerable mental health patients, which is of grave concerns particularly in light of the case of Olaseni Lewis who died after his was restrained by 14 officers who were called onto the ward by staff at SLAM in 2010.

David Merry human rights campaigner said:

“As one patient at South London and Maudsley has died following police contact, I was concerned that police had intervened again on 1st October at River House. I was shocked to find out that six officers from the Armed Response Unit as well as more officers from the Dog and TSG unit were deployed to attend an incident that occurred on a mental health ward.”

The only report on this incident is a heavily redacted one eventually published by SLAM after many request almost a year after they said that they would publish it. Learning that 48 police officers were deployed for this incident is incredible.

I am awaiting the outcome of a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office concerning SLAMs decision to withhold part of the investigation report into this incident, as well as other information from the Metropolitan Police Office relating to this case.’

Minority Perspective

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