A local authority left a vulnerable teenager in police custody for more than seven hours, a High Court judgement has revealed.
London Borough of Brent v K concerned a girl referred to as ‘B’. She was born in 1998 and subsequently taken into care in 2005. She was placed for adoption but a suitable home was not found and she remained in foster care.
Two years ago the situation began to deteriorate when B suffered an unspecified “enormous personal tragedy”.
In the judgement, Mr Justice Newton declared:
“On any view B was a very vulnerable person indeed, requiring help, support, guidance and protection.”
The teen began to self-harm, regularly absconding from foster care and associate with men, placing her at risk of sexual exploitation. Finally, in November last year, she returned to her foster home with bruising to her upper arms. She left again the following day. B returned briefly again several days later for a change of clothing.
By then the local authority had been alerted and, concerned for the girl’s welfare, applied for an ‘emergency collection’ order, allowing them to take B from the place she was staying into alternative foster accommodation in another location.
The application was quickly granted. Judge Newton explained:
“I heard that urgent application … and would not have granted the order had I not been satisfied that appropriate and protective arrangements for placement and transportation – that is to say an escort – were securely in place. That proved not to be the case.”
Police officers found B and took her back to the station at 7.30pm, only to discover that Brent had in fact made no arrangements for her to be escorted onwards to new accommodation. As a result, B was left in the police station, looked after by officers while they made a succession of phone calls to social services. Many of the individuals contacted did not appear to believe that the situation was an urgent one or were not interested in helping, the Judge noted.
In the end, transportation and new accommodation for B was arranged by an emergency duty of social workers, a process which took until 3am.
Mr Justice Newton explained:
“As a result, B continued to be held in police custody for over seven hours. She was extremely distressed. Whilst I could not fault the dedication and professionalism of the police, it is difficult to imagine a more unsuitable environment.”
Judge Newton was highly critical of the “inaccurate or misleading” information supplied to the court when the authority applied for the emergency collection order, and described the resulting need for B to remain in police custody until the small hours of the following morning as “nothing short of disgraceful”.
“I have the gravest reservations that the emergency systems in this authority are not remotely suitable or fit for purpose.”
Read the judgement here.