No way to handle assault

Case study

Situation: Wayne Grove is 36 and has Down’s syndrome. He lives at home with his parents, their only child. They are both 82 and have always “coped with” Wayne alone. While reluctant to let Wayne become independent, they were eventually persuaded to let Wayne join the supported employment scheme, which he loves, despite their continued concerns.

Problem: At a pub where Wayne was having a drink with colleagues after work, he walked into the toilet to witness a man beating another man up (as it later turned out) over drugs. The man then punched and kicked Wayne as he made his exit, leaving him needing hospital treatment. Wayne’s parents were mortified by the drugs link, saying that they “knew this would happen”, asking Wayne why was he drinking with his medication, and saying they should never have listened to social services. With Wayne back at home, a police officer called to get a statement from Wayne as both witness and victim. He decided to take him back to the scene of the attack alone to conduct a video interview. Wayne did not say a word. The officer then asked Wayne: “If I said I was wearing a puce shirt, would that be the truth or a lie?” Wayne did not answer – not least because he is colour-blind. The officer said Wayne could not be a reliable witness as he could not differentiate truth from lies. Wayne is now saying that he does not want to leave his parents’ house.

Panel responses

Clare Wallace
There are many factors to be considered for Wayne in this situation. His elderly parents are naturally very anxious about his safety and ability to look after himself. They are not going to be around for ever and this episode is likely to have compounded their anxieties for his future.

Importantly, Wayne has been able to work, and was socialising with colleagues when he became a victim of crime. This could happen to anyone. However, Wayne’s support needs following this incident are critical.

When he was being interviewed, he should have been offered support, for example through the appropriate adult scheme, so that questions were clearly understood. Returning to the scene of the attack may have caused Wayne considerable anxiety. It appears that an assumption has been made by the police officer regarding the reliability of Wayne’s statement, based on a question that Wayne would have been unable to answer correctly. A full assessment by a psychologist and a speech and language therapist would clarify his comprehension and communication support needs.

It would be good practice to develop a joint policy (police, health and social services) which agrees how best to support individuals in these circumstances. Wayne, as a victim, has the right for action to be taken by the police on his behalf, and for access to Victim Support services.

This incident has had a considerable effect on Wayne and his family. He has stopped doing things he likes. Planning for his future support needs is imperative, so that he can continue to expand his opportunities and prepare for a more independent life, with an acceptable level of risk.

His parents may find that contact with the Carers Support Network might be helpful, particularly in discussing options for the future and getting support in their contacts with services.

In the short term, Wayne needs support to regain confidence and make sense of the attack on him and the one he witnessed. A referral to the psychologist would be advisable, in order to help Wayne understand that he was neither responsible nor the guilty party. The Foundation for People with Learning Difficulties or Coalition for Disabled People may be able to support him during any resulting court proceedings.

Dawn Gillard
This case, like so many, questions the understanding of legislation and guidance around anti-discriminatory practice, the procedure for the protection of vulnerable adults, human rights legislation, and Valuing People policies. To identify the bad practice evident in this case study I would like to analyse from a social work and police perspective.

When the police were first contacted about the incident, the vulnerable adult procedure should have been initiated to ensure that Wayne was supported in a sensitive and appropriate manner. The manager of the adult learning disability team, or adult duty team, should have been contacted for advice. A social worker would have worked with Wayne, alongside the police, to identify an appropriate adult to support Wayne and his parents through this difficult time. This could have been a friend, relative, support worker, or someone with experience of working with disabled adults who did not work for the police authorities. Wayne should have been offered an advocate to speak on his behalf, not only to the police, but also to his parents.

When the police interviewed Wayne there should have been an appropriate adult or advocate or both present to voice Wayne’s views. The policeman should have been trained to work with vulnerable adults so that he would be aware of Wayne’s needs and difficulties. The policeman was supposed to interview Wayne as a victim and witness, but there was little evidence of this. As a victim, Wayne should have been offered information on the victim support service and treated in a more sensitive manner. When being interviewed as a witness, the appropriate adult, or advocate, would have helped Wayne to understand the questions being asked.

The Vulnerable Adult Procedure would have identified and brought together professionals from different local agencies including, social services, voluntary and private agencies, health, and the police, to offer support to Wayne and his parents.

This support would have been put in place during the investigation, and after the investigation had been completed. The bad practice illustrated by the police highlights the need for rolling agency training, and effective joint working, to provide the best possible service for the client.

User view

We feel that there are two issues arising from this and that they were both dealt with wrongly from the onset, write members of Lichfield day service advocacy group, Staffordshire.  

Wayne has every right as a citizen and an adult to be given the opportunity for employment. It is normal for people to go for a drink with colleagues after work, and it is good that Wayne was classed as being part of the team. However, should he have had a support worker go with him? This may have helped to resolve the issue of Wayne drinking while on medication.  

Wayne and his family should have received support after the incident to try and maintain Wayne in his placement. He has now lost the little bit of independence he had gained from his supported work. The incident occurred outside the workplace, so a compromise should have been reached that enabled Wayne to continue work but only go to the pub with support.  

Because his parents are elderly he needs to be given more opportunities to get involved in his local community and prepare for the time his parents won’t be around. It was very unfortunate that Wayne walked into the toilet while the incident was happening; it could have happened to anyone. 

The second issue is that the police have dealt very unfairly with Wayne. They have not treated him with respect, dignity or as a person with rights.  He has the same right as everyone else to have his complaint investigated fully, and with help see it through to court as a witness and victim. 

The police officer made mistakes. He should not have taken Wayne back to the crime scene; it would obviously bring back bad memories and he was too frightened to recount events. The officer should have interviewed him in a video suite, or somewhere neutral, with a support worker or some one of Wayne’s choosing. 

If the police officer had got to know Wayne, he would have been more sensitive about his colour-blindness and used language that Wayne could understand; how many people know what colour puce is? This would also have prevented Wayne being insulted by the police officer. 

As for Wayne, this is a tragic story. He needs to have some professional counselling and input to regain his confidence and self-esteem and to help him to live a fulfilled life.  

The Lichfield day service advocacy group, Staffordshire.

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