Apology over 'terror detention' for parents

Wednesday 23 July 2008 11:00 BST

The parents of a disabled child have received an apology from police after being detained under the Terrorism Act as they made a day trip to France, it emerged today.

Julie Maynard, her husband Leslie Coombs and his stepson Joshua, 12, were stopped as they were about to travel to Calais through the Channel Tunnel in Folkestone, Kent, to buy special boots for the child.

The family, from Ware, Hertfordshire, said they were stopped by a plain- clothes officer who failed to identify herself as a police officer and asked the couple to produce their passports.

Ms Maynard, 48, and a legal advocate, said the police officer then asked her and her husband, 'Who's the boy?' in reference to Joshua, who is of mixed race and suffers from autism and cerebral palsy.

Mr Coombs, 56, told BBC Radio Kent: "Julie then said, 'Why did you ask the question of who the boy is. Would you do that with a white child?'

"And the officer said that there is a lot of child trafficking and we could be held under child trafficking.

"We said, 'Hang on here, we are not child trafficking. He is who it says he is on the passport'. She then refused to give us our passports back and asked us to go over to the security lane."

Ms Maynard said: "We were told we were being detained under terrorism legislation. She also asked me if I was accusing her of being a racist. We were surrounded by a large amount of police officers and told to get out of the car.

"Josh was clearly frightened and I took the blue badge and said, 'Look, he has got cerebral palsy and he has got autism, you are frightening him. Would you frighten any child?' and they said to get back in the car."

The couple said they were then separated for around two hours as Ms Maynard underwent questioning, while Mr Coombs stayed with Joshua before being released.

Ms Maynard said: "We never knew the extraordinary powers (the police) have under the Terrorism Act.

"I think it should be used in a way that is controlled and measured and it shouldn't be an assumption that everyone who is travelling is involved in terrorism."

Mr Coombs, a chauffeur, criticised the officer's handling of the matter and made a formal complaint to Kent Police.

He said: "If for one minute they thought we were terrorists, we wouldn't have minded at all. We would have done what they wanted but I really think they didn't think we were terrorists at all. They just wanted to give us a hard time."

Following the lodging of their complaint, Mr Coombs said he received a letter of apology from the force which said the officer had been "insensitive, lacking in tact and overall professionalism".

Mr Coombs said they had also been told the officer no longer worked at the Channel crossing following the incident on February 20.

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