A severely autistic epileptic teenager who was pulled out of a swimming pool and restrained after he jumped in fully clothed during a school trip has won £28,250 damages from the Metropolitan Police.
The 19-year-old, who can only be identified as ZH, had established his claim for trespass to the person, assault and battery and false imprisonment under the Disability Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act, ruled the judge, Sir Robert Nelson, at London's High Court.
He said that, although the officers attending the September 2008 incident in Acton, west London, were acting as they genuinely thought best, their responses were "over-hasty and ill-informed".
Matters escalated to the point where a "wholly inappropriate" restraint of ZH, who has learning disabilities and cannot communicate by speech, took place.
By failing to consult his carers, the police failed to understand the potentially serious consequences of applying force and restraint to ZH, who suffered moderate post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said: "The case highlights the need for there to be an awareness of the disability of autism within the public services. It is to be hoped that this sad case will help bring that about."
He refused permission to appeal although counsel for the Met Commissioner said the application would be pursued directly with the Court of Appeal.
In his ruling, the judge said that the case was another example of the difficult role the police were often called upon to play.
"None of them were fully aware of the features of autism, what problems it presented and how it should best be dealt with in a situation such as occurred at the Acton swimming baths.
"They were called to the scene by a misleading message about ZH's behaviour, and on arrival perceived the need to take control and be seen to be taking steps to deal with the situation.
"What was called for was for one officer to take charge and inform herself of the situation, as fully as the circumstances permitted, so as to be able to decide on the best course of action to take. That did not happen."
He said that, while clear that the case against the police was established, he was equally clear that no one involved was at any time acting in an ill-intentioned way towards a disabled person.
After the judgment was given, the Met's counsel Anne Studd argued that its effect was to "lessen the overriding police duty to preserve life and limb".
"These are very difficult issues for the emergency services, including the police, to deal with and, in my submission, they should be given a margin in which they can act without their actions being found to be unlawful."
The judge said that the police had to assess each situation as they found it on its merits and deal with it accordingly.
"There is no standard here as to what may happen in each case. It is inevitably a decision on its own facts, and exceptionally unusual facts they are."