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Armed police on mental health wards, FOI report reveals

FEARS: Mental health campaigners are concerned that armed officers were called to a ward with vulnerable patients

FRESH CONCERNS have been raised after revelations that an official report failed to mention that armed police were called in to quell a disturbance at a NHS mental health ward.

This has prompted campaigners to demand greater transparency from the Met and hospital bosses.

The independent report, commissioned by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM), examined two separate but related incidents at River House medium secure unit – where 23-year-old Olaseni Lewis died in 2010 after being restrained by 11 police officers – on the night of October 1, 2012.

According to the report, 10 patients were involved in the incident in which the nurse’s station was besieged and threats were made to kill and rape staff.


The report mentioned that police were called to the scene, but omitted the scale of the response which, according to details in a Freedom of Information request, included Territorial Support Group riot police and the Armed Response Unit. In total, 48 officers and two dogs attended the scene.

Human rights campaigner David Mery who made the FOI request, said he was concerned about the report’s omissions and the way in which “crucial details” were “left out.”

He said: “Normally they would make it clear that information has been blacked out. Learning that 48 police officers were deployed for this incident is incredible. What else are they not saying?”

The revelation comes at a time when an urgent inquiry into the treatment of vulnerable people in police custody has been ordered by the government.

It follows a disclosure by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that 32 officers and staff could face charges over deaths in unexplained circumstances of six black and Asian men.

In a letter to Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, Home Secretary Theresa May said there would be an inspection in 2014/15 “on the welfare of vulnerable people in police custody, including, but not limited to, those with mental health problems and people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.”

DIED: Olaseni Lewis was a patient at River House

Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK, has expressed shock at the report’s revelation. 

She said: “This incident has reinforced concerns from many quarters of the community that detained psychiatric wards are not safe places for black people: We don’t know if anyone was bitten, tasered or shot.

“Knowing armed officers that are trained to shoot to kill are attending calls made by mental health staff raises serious human rights concerns.”

But a spokesperson from SLAM explained that the unit regularly liaised with the police and that assistance from officers on psychiatric wards, as in any other healthcare setting, is occasionally necessary. 

The spokesperson said: “A full independent review was carried out and we accept the review’s key recommendations and have plans to improve clinical and security arrangements in the unit.”

SLAM also said it was “confident” that considerable improvements have been made to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of the incident.


The omissions in the report, SLAM explained, were security specific information excluded “to ensure the safety of patients and staff and reduce the risk of similar incidents at other mental health units”.

The Metropolitan police, who are currently reviewing the way they work with vulnerable individuals, said they treated the incident as “significant” as the location was “known to officers as housing high-risk mental health patients”.

The Met further explained that they developed a tactical response using the widest range of resources based on the information provided by the hospitals.

 A spokesperson said: “There was a serious threat to staff safety, and some patients, whose medical history was not known to officers, were unsupervised and believed armed with furniture and access to a kitchen area containing knives.”

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