Many Scottish people with mental health problems who are suspected
of committing a crime or are witnesses to one are being denied
protection when interviewed because of police ignorance.
Research has revealed that, in 2002, less than half of those
eligible for an “appropriate adult” to protect their interests
during police interviews had one provided.
There were 827 appropriate adult call-outs in Scotland that year,
whereas 1,690 people with a form of mental disorder had proceedings
brought against them in the courts.
The findings, from the University of Edinburgh, have raised
concerns among campaigners that people with mental health issues
could have given inaccurate evidence or have been coerced into
doing so. The situation is blamed on a lack of understanding among
police officers of when it may be necessary to request the
appointment of an appropriate adult.
Of the 441 appropriate adults in Scotland, 70 per cent are social
workers, the rest being nurses or other professionals.
Guidance requires police to appoint an appropriate adult when they
suspect a person may have a mental illness. This decision can be
based on evidence from the person’s GP, social worker or carer.
All police officers had access to guidance on when to use an
appropriate adult, but only 38 per cent had used it and most said
better training was needed in identifying mental health problems.
The researchers reported: “In a significant proportion of cases,
although a mental disorder was recognised by the officer, an
appropriate adult was not called. This primarily occurred with
victims and witnesses rather than suspects, although the scheme
should be used for all three groups.”
Donald Lyons, of the Mental Health Commission, said the findings
supported the organisation’s own anecdotal evidence.
“It is bad practice,” he said. “You may have a situation where a
statement is taken from a person who is highly suggestible in the
absence of an appropriate adult and that cannot be used as
evidence,” he added.
The Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland was unavailable