Independent Police Complaints Commission
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IPCC recommends Sussex Police makes improvements after 11-year-old disabled girl held in cells overnight

The IPCC has made a series of recommendations to Sussex Police when dealing with the restraint and detention of children and adults in police custody who are vulnerable and have a mental illness.

The recommendations follow an investigation into the force’s treatment of a girl with a severe developmental disorder on five occasions between 2 February and 2 March 2012.

The girl - who was 11 at the time of the incidents, and is referred to as Child H to protect her identity – has a neurological disability which can cause challenging behaviour, with the potential to harm herself and others.

Child H spent a total of more than 60 hours in police custody after being arrested three times for minor offences, and on another occasion when she was detained under the Mental Health Act. The girl was held overnight in police cells twice. At the time of the incidents the girl’s neurological disability had not been diagnosed, but the force was informed by her mother that she was believed to be suffering from an autism spectrum disorder.

The IPCC found Sussex Police failed to ensure an appropriate adult (AA) – a parent, guardian or social worker - was present to support Child H in custody. Police were also found to have used handcuffs, leg restraints and spit hoods on Child H, yet on a number of occasions did not record any rationale for their use of force.

The investigation found these failings were in part due to Sussex Police’s training and force policy. Shortly after the IPCC investigationstarted, Sussex Police took early steps to establish appropriate protocols with Child H’s family to ensure lessons were learned and changes implemented in any future dealings with her.

The IPCC’s recommendations to the force include:

  • improved training on the use of force on children and adults with mental illness, to ensure the use of force is avoided wherever possible 
  • additional training on detaining vulnerable people and the role of an AA; and 
  • ensuring officers are accountable for their use of force.

IPCC Commissioner Jennifer Izekor said:

“This was a complex investigation, which found Sussex Police officers failed to respond effectively to the needs of a vulnerable child.

“While it is clear Child H had significant behavioural problems arising from her disability, Sussex Police and, indeed other agencies which were – or should have been - involved, did not appear to have the skills and capacity to respond to her effectively. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of understanding of Child H’s complex needs.

“The IPCC understands it is not possible to train each and every frontline officer to recognise and understand the complexities of all emotional or behavioural issues. But it is important that officers responding to young people with mental health, emotional and behavioural difficulties have a basic understanding of their needs and how best to deal them.

“I was pleased that shortly after we began our investigation the force engaged with Child H’s family to establish appropriate protocols to ensure that lessons were learned and changes implemented in any future dealings with her.

"We welcome the changes Sussex Police has made to its training and processes since the start of our investigation."

The IPCC’s view was that there was a case to answer for misconduct for six custody sergeants for failing to ensure an AA was present, one of whom also failed to transfer relevant information onto the risk assessment; another custody sergeant for failing to ensure that Child H was dealt with expediently whilst in custody; and two police constables for their restraint of Child H in handcuffs.

Conduct issues identified during the course of the investigation have been addressed by Sussex Police through management advice.

Two further officers - a custody sergeant and an inspector - who in the IPCC's view would have had a case to answer for misconduct for failing to ensure an AA was present, have since retired.

No further action was taken against a former front desk enquiry officer who the IPCC believed had a case to answer for misconduct for failing to treat Child H’s mother according to her needs; a call handler for failing to log sufficient information about Child H’s condition; and against a police constable who, in the view of the investigator, had a case to answer for misconduct.

The force recommendations can be found here:


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