Boy handcuffed in Superdrug targeted because of his race, mother says

The mother of a black 15-year-old boy detained by civilian security staff while shopping for shampoo in Chichester has said he was thrown to the floor and handcuffed after joking about being followed.

Former Downing Street aide Kirsty Buchanan has called for a national review of the use of private security staff, saying her child had been targeted because of his race, and that the behaviour of the security guards was dangerous.

Speaking to the Guardian, Buchanan said her son was not shoplifting in the Superdrug and was confronted by “aggressive” security staff, known as rangers. “They grabbed his arm, threw him on the floor, sat on him and tied his hands with plastic handcuffs,” she said.

Superdrug alleged that “female staff were also assaulted” during the incident. But Buchanan stressed her son had not been arrested for an assault on a shopworker and at the time of that alleged incident he was incapacitated on the floor.

“[The rangers] pulled his arms up and my son was screaming that it hurt,” she said. “A friend then came to his aid and tried to get the rangers off my child, who was clearly distressed and in pain.”

Sussex police said that a 15-year-old boy from Worthing and a 16-year-old boy from Chichester had been arrested by police on suspicion of assault and released on bail.

Buchanan, a former lobby journalist and adviser to Theresa May, whose father was a former police superintendent, has also called for an investigation into the handling of the incident by Sussex police.

“When Sussex police arrived, it was my son and the other boy who came to his aid who were arrested, even though my son had been subjected to an unprovoked assault,” she said.

She added Sussex police had a policy of not detaining minors, but she had not known his whereabouts for an hour and a half after learning about the incident. She said her son was not interviewed by police until 11pm on Wednesday, and was released on bail at 1.15am on Thursday.

A 15-second video of the incident, taken in a Superdrug branch in Chichester and posted by Buchanan on Twitter, appeared to show the boy being held down and handcuffed.

Buchanan tweeted: “This is my 15-year-old black son who was followed while he shopped for shampoo by two council workers called Rangers. He was assaulted by them, then sat on and handcuffed by them. When @sussex_police arrived, guess who they arrested?”

Civilian security staff known as “rangers” are employed by the Chichester business improvement district, which works in partnership with the city council. A Chichester district council spokesperson said on Wednesday that no district council staff were involved in the incident.

They said it had no oversight of any vetting procedure of rangers employed by Chichester BID. Asked if it was concerned by the incident, the spokesperson said it was awaiting the outcome of the police investigation: “Keeping our local area, residents and visitors safe, is a key priority for us.”

Buchanan, who said she was in communication with the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said her children were regularly stopped and searched and subjected to racist abuse and the incident was the “straw that broke the camel’ back”.

Speaking to the Guardian, she said: “I praise my children when they do not rise to these types of incidents. I don’t have an agenda, but it remains just plain facts that my son is three times more likely to get stopped and searched than his white friends, and he is stopped routinely.”

She added that she was calling for a national review of the role of private security guards because what had happened to her son – whom she described as a “normal, pleasant, charming, cheeky 15-year-old kid” – was dangerous. “Yes, what happened is upsetting, distressing and appalling – it’s also very dangerous,” she said.

“I want to know from Chichester BID what due diligence is carried out before rangers are hired, what training they receive and what their remit is. These private security firms operate in high streets across the country and a full review of their role in public protection is urgently needed.”

Sussex police said officers were called to the store following reports of an altercation, and found the 15-year-old detained in handcuffs, who was then arrested on suspicion of assault.

They stated: “There is no law in the UK that prevents civilians carrying handcuffs. Anyone who does carry handcuffs should be aware that their use could constitute a crime, unless they can show that using them was reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.”

A second teenager was arrested on suspicion of assault, possession of cannabis, and using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress, they said. Both teenagers have been released on bail “with strict conditions” until 24 June. “A full and thorough investigation is ongoing to establish the exact circumstances of what happened,” said the statement.

Chichester BID said it was cooperating with police alongside its security provider Blayde Security, and was taking the matter “very seriously”, adding: “We want to reassure traders, residents and visitors that we are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all.”

On Wednesday, a Superdrug spokesperson said the incident had happened “between Chichester BID Rangers and a group of young males they were monitoring”. They said: “Unfortunately, female staff were also assaulted. This is now a police matter, and we are offering our full assistance to Sussex police.

“Our priority is always to keep our colleagues and customers safe, we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to violence and aggression. The store remains closed due to damage caused.”

Superdrug later added: “We cannot comment on the actions of individuals not trained or employed by Superdrug. But we do have a zero-tolerance stance to violence and aggression and actively encourage civility and kindness in our stores. For example, our ‘Be Kind, Shop Kind’ campaign, launched in 2020 to remind people of the importance of respect in retail, through a range of in store materials. We cannot provide any further commentary at this stage, as this is a police matter, and we are offering our full assistance to Sussex police.”