Metropolitan Police yet to apologise for treatment of vulnerable woman in custody 9 years after the event
A woman with mental health problems who suffered horrific treatment by the police has settled her claim against the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, some nine years on from the event.
However, the claimant, Kelly Frost, is yet to receive an appropriate apology, despite it being a term of the settlement.
Kelly was arrested while having a mental health crisis in central London on 29 October 2011. She was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly, without even being breathalysed. The officers did not try to establish why she was so distressed and acting strangely.
On arrival she confirmed to the custody sergeant that she suffered from mental health problems and warned an officer that she would self-harm if left alone in a cell. A psychiatrist’s letter was found on her, which confirmed that she suffered from depressive episodes, posed a moderately high risk of self-harm, and that she took anti-depressants. Despite this, no consideration was giving to putting Kelly on constant watch.
When taken to her cell, all four of her medications, including her asthma inhaler, were taken from her. Her clothes were also removed, leaving her in just a slip. She begged not to be left alone. As the officers were leaving she placed her foot in the door to stop them from closing it. As a result, she was restrained on the floor by several officers and her legs forced apart. This was deeply traumatic for Kelly as a victim of sexual violence. She was placed face down in hand cuffs and leg restraints and left in this position, despite being at serious risk of positional asphyxia, for some 45 minutes.
After the restraints were removed Kelly started to run headfirst into the cell door, sometimes so hard that she would frequently fall to the floor and lie motionless afterwards. She did this in excess of 50 times in an hour. None of the seven officers involved in her detention took any steps to prevent her from harming herself.
Instead the officers watched her on the CCTV, while mocking her and using misogynistic, prejudicial and derogatory language about her, all of which can be heard on the CCTV. They laughed at her underwear and body hair, commented that her screams were annoying and called her “Mrs Mad”.
Kelly was released from the police station after eight hours. She was never interviewed about the allegation and no further action was taken against her. When she got home Kelly had multiple bruises, abrasions and felt suicidal. She attended hospital, where she stayed overnight.
Kelly made a complaint against the officers involved in her detention. In interview for the complaint investigation, the custody sergeant responsible for Kelly’s care in detention, PC Wiggins, maintained that in his view she was ‘play acting and attention seeking’. The report by the Metropolitan Police Directorate of Professional Standards found misconduct against all seven police officers and one nurse involved in Kelly’s detention. It said that PC Wiggins’ failures were so serious that dismissal was justified.
Misconduct proceedings commenced, which resulted in sanctions against the junior officers, which were reduced on appeal. PC Wiggins, and another more senior officer, received no punishment for their actions as the charges against them were dismissed. PC Wiggins maintained throughout that he had provided a high standard of care for Kelly while she was in custody.
Kelly suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of these events, which she is still impacted by in the form of flashbacks and panic attacks. She was so disgusted that PC Wiggins in particular faced no sanction whatsoever that she pursued a civil action against the police in 2014. This took many years, in large part because the police delayed in disclosing documents. These delays prolonged Kelly’s recovery while she waited for validation and closure.
During the course of the case, the police asked for a psychiatrist to examine Kelly. She agreed but asked that the psychiatrist could be female in view of her past history of sexual violence against her by men. The police then proposed a male psychiatrist and would not consider finding a female alternative. Kelly reluctantly agreed to be assessed by a man, on the assurance that the male psychiatrist would be sympathetic, which he was not. He confirmed after the appointment that he had refused to allow her breaks at a time of her choosing, because he wanted to see how much distress she could cope with.
The case settled in March 2020 for damages, a letter of apology and a letter confirming that the officers would be spoken to and reminded of current Metropolitan Police polices on mental health – and yet the apology remains outstanding, despite it being a clear term of the settlement.
While the Civil Action Investigation Unit provided a short letter, there were numerous typographical errors and factually incorrect statements.
Kelly’s solicitors, from law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, pointed out the inaccuracies and requested a revised version. The police have corrected the typographical errors but have yet to respond in relation to the inaccuracies.
Alice Hardy, Partner, Human Rights Solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents Kelly, said: “Kelly’s hope is that she has made some difference in the attitudes of officers such as PC Wiggins, and helped to ensure that other vulnerable people are not treated the way that she was, and yet their actions to date indicate the opposite.”
Kelly Frost said: “Had the misconduct proceedings not been such a farce it would not have been so important to me to pursue this claim. It has been a long and painful journey and I am relieved to have some resolution. However, it was never about compensation – I wanted to ensure that this never happens to anyone else ever again. I really hope that lessons have been learnt and better care is given to those who are under the care of the police in future, but they are yet to properly acknowledge their actions against me. I truly hope that all women and vulnerable people will not receive this kind of treatment, and I will keep pushing for the apology I have been promised.”
Alice added: “It is fortunate that Kelly survived her treatment in custody. Either the dangerous restraint that she was subject to or her unchecked self-harm could easily have resulted in her death. It is extraordinary that this happened and that the custody sergeant responsible for her welfare persists in the belief that she was treated well in custody. It is particularly vital during this pandemic, which has taken an immense toll on the mentally ill, that police officers treat vulnerable people not only safely, but with dignity and respect. That did not happen in Kelly’s case. I echo her hope that her strength in pursuing the complaint and civil claim will assist in ensuring that lessons are learnt, but the fact that the apology remains unresolved some six months after it was promised is very depressing.”
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