Lancashire police threatened to Taser suicidal teen, court told

Lancashire police threatened to shoot a suicidal 16-year-old girl on a motorway bridge with a Taser and then accused her of wasting police time, a court has heard.

The girl, identified as HT, had “highly complex needs” and was living in an unregistered private children’s home at the time, where staff referred to her as a “wild animal”.

She had been taken into care by Blackpool council, which has made an official complaint to Lancashire constabulary.

At the time of the incident, in January this year, Blackpool social workers were in the middle of a “fruitless” search to find the girl a registered children’s home placement.

The case illustrates the worsening shortage in specialised placements for the most vulnerable young people who are deemed not mentally ill enough for detention under the Mental Health Act, but whose behaviour is very difficult to manage in a children’s home.

The teenager’s plight was revealed in a recently published family court judgment, where a judge authorised the continuing deprivation of HT’s liberty in a placement where she was watched by three members of staff 24 hours a day.

The court heard that the private provider had given notice of the placement on 6 May, effectively evicting HT, now 17. Staff were struggling to manage her behaviour and referred to her as “a wild animal” after she stole one of their phones, Mr Justice MacDonald noted.

In the following five days the council carried out 67 placement searches to find her somewhere else to live, to no avail. Officials also completed a referral for the girl to be placed into a secure unit but no one was willing to take her. The council had been trying since June 2021 to find her a registered place, the court heard.

“That search, which has encompassed the entire country and has included secure accommodation provision, has proved fruitless and continues to do so,” the judge said.

The court heard that HT had carried out multiple acts of serious self-harm. On 11 June 2021, one of those acts resulted in her needing to be placed in an induced coma. There were no child adolescent mental health beds available, so she ended up on an adult ward for 13 days, before being placed with the unregistered private provider.

Weeks later, she started a fire in the bathroom at the placement, leading to her arrest for arson. In January this year, she had to be talked down from a motorway bridge after becoming distressed and suicidal.

“Unfortunately, when the police attended HT was threatened by police with being Tasered and told that she was wasting police time,” the judge wrote, saying he asked Lancashire police to explain its approach to such a distressed teenager.

“The chief constable of Lancashire maintains that the conduct of the police during the course of the incident on 28 January 2022 was entirely appropriate,” the judge wrote.

In March, after another serious incident of self-harm , there was a dispute between Blackpool council, who thought HT was behaving psychotically and needed sectioning, and local child psychiatrists who thought her behaviour was “more suggestive of a trauma-based response”.

The judge authorised her further detention for a limited period, but said it was yet “another example, amongst many examples, of a case in which the acute lack of appropriate resources, for children assessed as not meeting the relevant criteria for detention under ss 2 or 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (the 1983 Act) but requiring therapeutic care within a restrictive environment for acute behavioural and emotional issues arising from past trauma, creates tension between a local authority and the NHS”.

Lancashire police and Blackpool council have been contacted for comment.

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Comments are closed.