Thursday, 25 April 2013

Rigid Legal Rules can Kill

Some of you may not realise the symbolism behind this site's logo. Occasionally a news item can bring back sad memories.  This evening Channel 4 News reported that:
Two mothers, both of whose 17-year-old sons committed suicide after being detained by the police, wept in court today as a judge ruled the treatment of 17-year-olds in police custody is unlawful.

Different laws treat the age at which children become adults differently and in the above case the police had assumed that while 16 year olds were children they could arrest 17 year olds without telling their parents. Following these two deaths, and several more to lethal cases the courts have now ruled that the legal age for the purposes of police arrest was 18.

Basically the law assumes that 17 year olds are vulnerable - and their parent need to be involved - but a miracle occurs on their 18th birthday and they are no longer vulnerable and don't need the help and support of their parents.

Of course this clarification of the law would not have help us in 1984 as Lucy was 20 when she was arrested. The point is that she was very vulnerable - and too ill to really be able to look after herself.  She had been already been remanded to Holloway, before we accidentally discovered what had happened. Only a month or so before she had been an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital (for part of the time on section) and she had become manic and developed a hated of taxi drivers (possibly after having been raped by one). It appears that the hospital decided it didn't want her back and as she was legally an adult she was not "vulnerable" her family was not told.

The period she spent in the "Muppet House" in Holloway not only destroyed her mentally, but seriously affected the rest of the family who could do nothing but see her going to pieces. After a Court of Appeal ruled that a fellow Muppet House prisoner should have received medical treatment and never been sent to prison a hospital bed was found for Lucy - but too late - as she killed herself on an anniversary related to her arrest.

But this wasn't the end as the whole family was seriously affected - and the post traumatic stress disorder caused by what happened was one of the factors leading to the closure of the CODIL project. Her sister Belinda had a breakdown and after being "wrongfully arrested" in the same police station - was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Due to a clerical error the police gave her a letter which indicated she had been charged, and a few days later she killed herself. 

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