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legal

The police, young people and mental health…in Wiltshire…

Today I’m reproducing an article I wrote for my family column in the weekly newspaper, The Gazette & Herald, which covers much of the county of Wiltshire. It was published on Thursday August 29 2013  and I’m reproducing it here at the request of one of my Twitter followers, an organisation which I much admire, Wiltshire Mind. To follow me on Twitter, you’d be most welcome at @mum3fi, and you can find the Gazette & Herald @wiltsgazette. 

 

Some time ago,  I wrote about an Ofsted report into the safeguarding of vulnerable children in Wiltshire and the fact that the county’s local authority had been found wanting.

I also reported on the fact that the 2012 report had prompted action to be taken and went through some of the measures to improve the situation for vulnerable and looked-after children in the county. I should point out that the report didn’t suggest any children had come to harm as a result of failings.

However, buried within that 2012 report was a comment which really stood out for me – and which I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of ever since.

It said ‘the established practice by police of using section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to hold some children or young person in custody where they have committed an offence is inappropriate’.

It goes on to say ‘this practice is under review given that there is now a dedicated CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) out-of-hours service that can provide more timely and potentially more appropriate assessments’.

This prompted me to find out about Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It’s headed ‘mentally disordered persons found in public places’. It allows that a constable can remove and detain someone for up to 72 hours until he, or she, is examined by a registered practitioner or mental health professional.

What does this mean? Have the police in Wiltshire – or anywhere else for that matter – been holding young people and children, in custody for up to 72 hours when it’s suspected they might have mental health issues?

Since raising questions around two months ago, I’ve been on a journey of epic proportions around the ‘system’. But the answer to my key question is – yes.

A number of children each year have been arrested and held, usually when they’ve committed an offence, and the police believe mental health issues have contributed in some way.

Several times the term ‘Freedom of Information’ was used by various voices but last week I finally got some figures from Wiltshire Constabulary. They are:

2009 – four children (under-18s) were held under Section 136.

2010 – six.

2011 – four.

2012 – three.

But to confuse matters even further these are not the definitive figures. The police have recorded ‘pure’ cases – those where a child clearly has, at first point of contact, mental health issues. However, there have also been a number of cases where an arrest has been made and police officers have subsequently sought help as they’ve suspected mental health issues.

Taking these cases into account as well, the total number of children between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012 who were held under Section 136 was 23.

So what has been done about it? The Wiltshire Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB –  partnership between Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Police and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust) insists much has been done.

In December 2012, mental health services for under-18s was taken over by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, known as Oxford Health.  It immediately introduced the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Protocol.

To cut through the jargon this means when police officers respond to a young person in ‘significant mental health distress or crisis’, the officer contacts CAMHS from the scene by phone. They can do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Emergency mental health assessments can then be offered or an appointment within 24 hours.

The officer provides information including:

*         Presentation – how is the young person behaving?

*         Need for medical attention – is the young person hurt?

*         Circumstances of the incident

*         Concerns regarding safeguarding or welfare

The CAMHS worker checks the electronic health record system to see if that young person is known. If so, the worker may speak directly with the young person and propose a safety plan or speak to parents or carers.

If distress can be reduced through a phone conversation, the young person is normally offered an urgent assessment on the morning of the next working day.  If concerns remain, an emergency assessment can be offered in a safe location such as a CAMHS clinic or police station within two hours.

If the young person is not known, there may be unknown risks and an urgent mental health assessment can be offered.

The options are discussed with the officer at the scene who always reserves the right to use a 136 detention or other police powers.

In a statement WSCB said:

“It’s a system which enables officers to gain a mental health perspective to inform their decision-making and consider alternative options.  It also ensures CAMHS are alerted to mental health concerns at an early stage stage and can offer an urgent assessment whether the young person is detained or not.

“The benefits of this collaboration between mental health services and the police, is that distressed young people who require urgent mental health support can receive this quickly, in the least restrictive manner which ensures their immediate needs and risks are reduced.”

The Board says that so far, the new system is working.

“We are pleased to report as result of this protocol there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of 136 detentions under the Mental Health Act of young people under 18 years.

“In the last two years, prior to the introduction of the protocol, there were 23 ‘136’ detentions – this has reduced to three since December 2012.”

Mental health issues in the under-18s - how do the police deal with this?

Mental health issues in the under-18s – how do the police deal with this?

 

We’re not talking about many children, of course, but we are talking about children. Children suspected of having some kind of mental health issue. Children who could, quite legally, be  held for up to three days. Let’s hope this new support system keeps on working.

 

 

 

Should our press be free – or not? Review my thoughts…

No more restrictions on our Press thanks....

This week I was asked to fill in a survey about press freedom and the phone-hacking scandal.

It’s part of a study by a university which is questioning journalists across Europe about their views on the issue of regulation of the Press.

Those of us who work in television a lot, often try to talk about the Press as though somehow we are a separate entity. I’ve never believed this. Coming into the industry through newspapers and still writing today – I believe we are all one industry and we should defend, support and, when necessary, chastise each other when things go wrong.

This phone-hacking issue, the Levenson inquiry, centres largely around the national newspapers. Our national newspapers are more powerful than most people realise. Not because us ordinary Joes care about it – but because our law-makers do.

Having worked alongside politicians for many years, I can promise you that those who are ambitious, want to climb the political ladder, really, really care about what the newspapers say. I have even heard politicians make judgements based upon ‘what the Daily Mail would say about it’.

As a regional journalist for most of my career, I’ve always been astonished by this.

 

And many celebrities care too. The amount of times I’ve heard people turn down interviews with the local media, because ‘it’s not national’, ‘it’s a waste of time’ – an argument that has never had much validity and even less now with the internet. When a parish magazine advertising local jumble sales can be found on the internet, the notion of local press almost becomes obsolete…

However, I will absolutely defend the rights of the Press as a whole – it’s a mark of our democracy that our Press is free.

I could not support any further legislation restricting Press freedom. This does not mean I condone phone-hacking – I don’t. I’ve never done it, never been asked to do it, never asked anybody else to do it for me. It’s illegal and the law is already in place to deal with it. That law should be used.

There’s another reason I defend the Press. The written media has to obey the law of the land but the broadcast media also has to obey the Ofcom code which is very strict. Television has to obey much tighter guidelines than newspapers. I well remember coming into television and being amazed about the hoops that had to be jumped through.

One example is secretly recording a telephone call – note, not phone-hacking. In television, you have to seek legal permission to actually record a call. And it can’t be because you ‘think’ something will be revealed. Oh no, you have to be very,very sure you will get something out of it. If you get permission, then you have to then get further permission to use that material. A lawyer has to be satisfied that the material ‘adds further value or something new’ to a programme which could not have been obtained in any other way. So recording a telephone conversation is no guarantee that it will be used at all.

It also is worth remembering that most journalists are not into underhand means to get information. We’re not interested in people’s private lives unless they are hypocrites or it somehow impacts on a public role. We don’t offer sums of  money to people for information (although people often ask for money) and we don’t hack into people’s phones. Yet we still find things out, reveal things, hold things up for scrutiny, regardless of whether or not that makes us popular.

Let’s keep our free Press, we’ll regret it if we don’t….

 

Do you have a website? Save your cookies? You MUST take action!

How many times have you seen the word ‘cookie’ in relation to computers, websites and the internet and just don’t have a clue what it means – in fact, don’t even care?

It’s just one of those terms which us technophobes skim over and ignore, accepting that it’s something technical and we don’t need to think about.

COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES! From January 1 2012, if you’ve got a website, for business or personal use, and it uses cookies for gathering data – YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS.

Cookies are not only lovely biscuits which are often horribly addictive – they are also pieces of code which attach themselves to your computer when you click on certain websites. I think that’s a good way to describe it. Please feel free to comment and provide a better description.

These cookies can gather data about you, how you navigate a website, where your interests lie – all of which is useful data for a company which is trying to effectively market to consumers or where a company or individual wants to know great detail about the amount of traffic coming to their site.

A new EU law comes into force on January 1 which means all  websites using cookies in this way in Europe MUST give a warning about their use PRIOR TO THE WEBSITE LOADING. If you don’t have this facility, you will be breaking the law and you risk a fine.

Think of it this way. When you use your mobile to ring an 08000 number or a similar number, you often get that message which says ‘if you continue with this call, it will cost 7p a minute so hang up if you don’t want to pay’ etc. I always hang up and switch to a landline.

This is a similar warning – which must be visually  displayed before cookies are downloaded, which happens very quickly once you’ve clicked on a website of interest. The aim is to provide further safeguards around privacy on the web.

Personally I don’t mind that some sites use cookies to find out general things about me – maybe I’m naive. But I guess there are many people out there who do mind and don’t’ want websites to know who you are the next time you visit etc. Oh and by the way, WordPress blogs like this do use cookies – so we here at Mellow Media need to take note alongside everyone else.

This law actually came into force in other European countries in May but the UK government delayed it here because it felt that it had not been widely publicised. I think the Government was right in that assumption. For most of us, we’ve never even heard of this EU cookie law and potentially we’re all walking into a trap.

But we can offer a solution which will not cost loadsa money. Is this a bit of shameless marketing? Yes, it is – let’s be upfront. One of our clients, Sarah Arrow, founder of Birds On The Blog, has designed a legal WordPress plug-in to do the job for you.

The key issue is that the message MUST BE DISPLAYED before a website loads – so be aware of products which give a warning too late – apparently that’s the difficult bit for technical designers to get right.

Does your website use cookies? You will probably be needing to read this blog then!.....

We don’t often recommend something unless it’s something we truly think is useful. This new EU law (which the UK government could in the fullness of time and when it’s got its head round more pressing matters, find a way around), has the potential to cost small business people a lot of money.

Sarah has a cheaper solution which gets around this problem, and we are more than happy to help her publicise it . A WordPress plug-in  – for details visit the pithily titled website (!) www.eucookielawwpplugin.co.uk

Juror jailed over social media chat about court case

Only a week or so ago I warned about chattering about court cases on social media sites. Mad really, given how much I like to chatter myself.

But there’s chatter – and there’s chatter. Talking about a court case when you’ve little knowledge of how our judicial system works is very dangerous. Doing the same if you are a juror in a court case is a complete no-no.

Gossiping about a court case in this way can lead to a trial collapsing – as it has in this case – and then there may be a re-trial. Or people who are potentially guilty of a crime may get off on a technicality. That’s not in anybody’s public interest. And there’s the waste of time and money by police, court staff, lawyers.

&

child showing just mouth with finger up as if saying ssshhh!

Keep your mouth shut if you are a juror - including online.

 

And now it’s been proved. A woman jailed for eight months for contempt of court when she had an online conversation with another woman who’d been acquitted earlier in the same trial.

 

This juror’s chatter, which was about her fellow jurors and their deliberations, has now cost her dear. Gossip gone mad. But even had she not mentioned the case at all, just the mere connection with someone involved in the case might have been enough.

 

What this case shows to me is that the internet is not immune to UK law.

 

The judge looked at the motivation and actions of the individual – not at where she expressed her views or comments. The same effect would have come about if she’d published a letter in The News of the World.

 

The question for me is – how can this be avoided in the future? Can it be avoided?

 

Is our use of the internet now so powerful and pervasive that we cannot help but interact on line?

 

The BBC correspondent covering the case did suggest that we might have to consider being more relaxed about our court cases, as they are in America where journalists (everyone in fact) has much more freedom to speak out.

And how many times has this happened and the chatter has never reached a ears of a judge or jury or magistrate? I bet it’s a few, maybe a lot.

 

I find this whole issue fascinating. But it’s not one I’ll be testing out myself. I don’t fancy spending eight months in jail – or even the four months she’ll actually do if she behaves herself.

 

Wonder if she’ll tell us about her experience on Facebook? What’s her name again?…..

Motorhome dilemma – what would you do? pr opportunity?

MOTORHOME DILEMMA – WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

THE FOLLOWING STORY IS TRUE…

line of caravans parked up

Dilemma - motorhome or no motorhome? (thanks for pic humblebee)

You are a journalist working on a national television show which often deals with consumer issues.

You speak to a police officer who’s having problems with a company which supplies motorhomes. He’s paid out more than £40,000 on a wonderful vehicle but it turns out to be a complete lemon. The money took his life savings – a silver wedding anniversary present for him and his wife. It was a dream purchase.
It leaks, it’s mouldy, it’s not fit for purpose and he doesn’t want it in this state. But the company refuses to resolve the issue, insisting that repeated repairs are the answer.
He’s at the end of his tether, it’s causing arguments with his wife and he just wants his money back or a brand new vehicle. The company won’t budge – court action looms.

 

As a last resort, he contacts you – a journalist.


You listen, ask him to send in copies of paperwork and photographs to verify his story. It all checks out.

 

But you know from experience that chasing this could take weeks of writing, fending off lawyers, talking to lawyers, and that’s before you’ve filmed a shot. All of that takes money and time.

 

So you want a firm commitment that if you take up this case – he’ll agree to be interviewed and filmed.

He says to you ‘I’m my own man, no one will force me to do anything’.

 

You proceed and take up the case. Letters, e-mails fly around. Many talks take place with the retailer of the motorhome. It tries to fob you off with talk of it being the manufacturer’s problem. But you know that under the Sale of Goods Act, the responsibility lies with the retailer.
Eventually, some weeks later, the company contacts you to say the matter is resolved, they’ve backed down. But you need to contact the police officer, your interviewee. You know that this is a  situation that would not have come about had it not been for your intervention.

 

But you feel that there’s something to this deal that you won’t like – what could it be?

 

The police officer doesn’t contact you. You leave several messages but none are returned. Eventually, you catch him by surprise and he’s forced to talk to you. He confirms what you suspect – he’s been told he’ll get his new motorhome if he calls you off and refuses to cooperate.

So what happens next?

Consider this – what would you do if you were that journalist? what about that police officer? What about that motorhome company? How would you try to deal with this dilemma? Do let me know…..if I get enough comments – I’ll let you know what actually happened next week!

 

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