You Can’t Both Be Correct …

This week on tweets I’m going to focus on “Mental Health Act Assessments on Private Premises” and section 135(1) MHA. (You can follow in Twitter, via the link on the right hand column of the blog.)  This follows the disturbing case of Mr Peter Russell, a dementia patient who has subject to the police use of force to ‘section’ him after an MHA assesment at his home.

I’m going to outline a particular problem from a police officer’s point of view.  Let me just say unequivocally before I do so, that this is one example of the kind of thing we all do to each other and the police revisit this sort of thing on our health, mental health and social care colleagues every day.

So this is not about me trying to get on a high horse – I am aware that this could be viewed as the police throwing stones from greenhouses.  In fact, this is as much about getting police officers to think through the problem as it is about trying to draw to AMHPs attention, the issue of consistency.

Disclaimer over!

At various times over the last few years I’ve been asked to speak to a room full of AMHPs about policing and mental health.  Inevitably, the subject of MHA Assessments in Private Premises comes up with all its usual quandaries:

  • Should the police attend at all?
  • If so, when and who decides?
  • Should there be or could there be a warrant under s135(1) MHA
  • Who makes that decision if there are disputes between the police and the AMHP about it.
  • If there is a dispute, should the police still attend?
  • Who risk assess the operation?
  • more questions besides …

I’ve addressed each of these in other blogs so I won’t rehearse them here, but as I’ve continued to be involved in discussions on this it remains clear that there are misunderstandings and misconceptions about this piece of law and the legal framework that would surround such an assessment if it were conducted without a warrant.  (I have even this year had disagreement with a Mental Health Act Commissioner, which felt very odd indeed – that it were needed at all seemed unexpected; that it were unexpectedly needed explained a lot.)

The reaction I get to my standard “s135” speech is mixed: more confused faces than nodding heads, but always mixed.  I’d like to make an outrageous generalisation to keep the point short: but the nearer to London you get, the more heads tend to nod and the further north you travel the more one sees copies of Richard Jones being pulled from bags and the commencement of frantic page turning.  Particularly looking forward to speaking at an AMHP conference in December in Leeds! (Note to self: pack riot gear.)

The inconsistency encountered by the police is probably on two issues – at least in my experience:

  • Understanding of when the police are obligated to attend an MHA assessment – no, it’s not when the AMHP says they should.
  • Understanding of the legal criteria for obtaining a warrant and how that understanding should link to decisions of whether to seek one – and therefore, when it would helpfully allow the mitigation of the very risks that necessitate police attendance in the first place.

My point is this: whatever you may think of the view I’ve taken on other blogs – views, incidentally which were formed in conjunction with national agencies followed by triangulated legal advice from independent MH Counsel, as well as police and health lawyers – YOU CAN’T BOTH BE CORRECT!

  • The obligation for the police to attend either exists, or it does not.
  • The grounds for getting a warrant are either met; or they are not

The stakes on this are high: the names of service users, mental health professionals and police officers who have died during the attempt to undertake MHA assessments can be found.  Also, we heard last week of the case of Peter Russell where an assessment led to regrettable – although some argued, necessary – tactics to secure his safe admission after becoming resistant upon being detained under the Act.  Such a case as Peter Russell’s is a critical incident in the sense of having the potential to affect the public’s confidence in the police.

And so this short new blog is just a reminder that it is incumbent upon us all to keep talking, learning and developing our understanding of the legal frameworks which govern us; to ensure we iron out our inconsistencies as much as we can.  Within this, I include myself which is why I invite comment on this blog from anyone who has a perspective to offer.

Have a great week!

The Mental Health Cop blog

Badgewon the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs

ccawards2013 was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.



8 thoughts on “You Can’t Both Be Correct …

  1. “keep talking, learning and developing our understanding” says it really I would add “getting to know each other”. Case by case wholly dependent on the relations between the front line staff and their line managers. In some cases the police officer contacted will know that the MHS worker calling says he s/he needs help and will blue-light whatever resource can attend immediately. In other cases the SW will know that in this instance the police have more and better intelligence about the situation such that police attendance will not be needed or might even exacerbate the crisis.

  2. we will have to keep pressing on and trying to get a national policy in place at present you are too often reliant on speaking to the “right” person, not only are AMHPs confused but the response of the police seems to vary from force to force and yes there is a North/South divide perhaps social media will help as it gives the opportunity to spread law and good practice across the country a lot easier than in the past.

    1. I think that’s what I’ve learned about social media – you immediately link to many people, but spread across a wide area. I also think that the network this creates, whereby people feel more able to give a view on things, isolated from an operaitonal, budgetry, cultural reality, means that network helps all, across their professional divide.

      In other words: I’ve got evidence, that AMHPs / psych nurses, etc., will share a view in social media which wouldn’t get shared in operational reality, perhaps because of managers’ “preferences”.

      1. Just so you know Greater Manchester Police now advice officers to refer to your site is a source of information.

        One down 40+ to go :o)

      2. Another GMP officer had let me know, so was aware but thanks for letting me know! … the lead ACPO force – Leicestershire also do so, but ronically, my force don’t! LOL!

        So I emailed our HQ today to say, “If GMP and Leics are doing it, why aren’t we?!” Should get linked next week or so.

        You seem extremely knowledgable about this stuff, is it operational frustration on your part too?!

      3. Only so many times you can be told “I can’t because it’s policy” before you start to read them. It’s a shame most of them don’t know their own. Ultimately between our inter service arguing there is a vulnerable person in need. Unfortunately I’m just a PC so my opinion carrys little (if any) weight. I am starting to annoy people so working my way up the chain to the people who can make a real difference. Incidentally my Chief Con has intimated that he might be better off paying for our own MH worker as it would be cheaper in the long run!

        Anyway great blog boss! Hope it keeps up the momentum!

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