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MPs approve 'Seni's law' to restrict use of force against mental health patients

Bill tabled by Labour's Steve Reed had previously been blocked by Tory MPs but is now a step closer to becoming law after being passed by the Commons 

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 06 July 2018 13:58 BST
Olaseni Lewis died after being restrained by 11 police officers in 2010
Olaseni Lewis died after being restrained by 11 police officers in 2010 (Handout)

MPs have voted in favour of a new law to restrict the use of force against patients in mental health units, despite fears the bill might be blocked by Tory backbenchers.

The changes would force NHS trusts to increase transparency about the restraint of patients, including making police officers wear body cameras when dealing with vulnerable people

The Commons burst into applause when the private member's bill, introduced by Labour's Steve Reed, passed its third reading.

The reforms are known as "Seni's law" in memory of Olaseni Lewis, who died in September 2010 after being restrained by 11 police officers at Bethlem Royal Hospital in south-east London.

Lewis, who was 23, fell into a coma following the incident and died days later. An inquest later found the officers had used "excessive force" but no criminal charges were brought.

Seni's parents, Aji and Conrad, were in the Commons to see the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill passed unopposed by MPs.

Also watching from the public gallery was Marcia Rigg, whose son, Sean, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and died while in police custody in Brixton, south London, in 2008.

The government has already backed the changes but the bill was blocked last month when Conservative MP Philip Davies spoke for more than two hours in a bid to filibuster it.

No such opposition was voiced during the bill's third and final reading, though, and it will now pass to the House of Lords for further scrutiny before it becomes law.

Mr Reed said restraint was used 97,000 times in mental health units last year, injuring 3,652 patients.

Addressing MPs, he said: "Although this bill is called Seni's law in honour of Seni, it's affected many, many people beyond Seni who have lost their lives or been injured simply because they were unwell.

"The purpose of this bill is to make sure this can't happen again.

"This is our chance to make mental health services safe and equal for everyone."

Mr Reed said the 70th anniversary of the NHS this week marked a good opportunity to make changes to help people with mental illness.

He said: "What better way to celebrate that occasion than by giving the NHS a birthday present by making it even better - by creating for people with mental ill health in this country some of the best protections anywhere in the world."

He also paid tribute to campaigners, including Seni's father, Conrad, who he quoted as having said: "I bear a burden I'll have to carry for the rest of my life. It's a burden I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and I don't want any other parent to have to carry that burden."

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