UK police not always treating suspects’ medical emergencies as ‘genuine’, watchdog warns

Lizzie Dearden
·4-min read
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iStock

A watchdog has raised concern that police are not treating potential medical emergencies as “genuine” while arresting suspects.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is developing new national recommendations after an incident in London where a man was restrained over a parking violation.

It comes amid renewed debate over the use of force by British police, following Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the death of George Floyd in the US.

In footage that sparked outrage on social media, Youness Bentahar was pinned to the ground while shouting “my heart”.

His wife told Metropolitan Police officers they were “killing him” during the incident in Poplar in July 2019, but the restraint was not immediately stopped.

The IOPC said: “Mr Bentahar appeared to have a seizure, with evidence suggesting some of the officers were unsure it was genuine.

“However, this did not impact on the care he received, as a support team of other police officers arrived quickly and provided medical treatment before handing him into the care of paramedics.”

Mr Bentahar had been driving his wife and young children when he parked, using a blue badge, on a single yellow line.

Police officers asked him to move the vehicle, saying it was causing an obstruction, and forcibly arrested him when he refused.

Mr Bentahar, 38, denied causing an obstruction and said he parked legally using the badge, displayed because one of his children has a lung condition requiring oxygen.

The incident, where several onlookers tried to intervene, sparked protests in Poplar and allegations of racial, religious and disability discrimination.

After conducting an independent investigation, the IOPC said Mr Bentahar had been asked several times to move his car and refused, then resisted arrest.

The watchdog said it interviewed the police officer who restrained him under criminal caution, questioned his colleagues and reviewed body-worn video camera clips of other interactions to assess discrimination concerns.

“The Crown Prosecution Service subsequently decided no charges were to be brought against him,” the IOPC said.

“Though we agreed with the Metropolitan Police that there was no case to answer for misconduct on use of force and discrimination, we did feel that, as the car was displaying a blue badge, more could have been done to identify whether any reasonable adjustments around disability needed to be made.”

Scotland Yard said the constable had “taken part in a reflective practice review to reflect on what happened and how he might have handled the incident better to prevent it escalating”.

Mr Bentahar was arrested on suspicion of obstruction of the highway, assaulting police and resisting arrest but no charges were brought.

Sal Naseem, the IOPC director for London, said: “We were concerned that Mr Bentahar’s apparent seizure was not taken seriously by some officers and it should have been.

“That’s why we are looking at how this can inform national training, as a key part of our role is to help prevent these issues from happening again. This can only be in the interests of both the police and the public.”

A national recommendation is being developed to improve the way officers deal with people who appear to be unwell or say they are suffering a medical emergency.

The IOPC said training and guidance could be changed as early as April next year following work with the College of Policing and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

Commander Paul Betts, of Scotland Yard’s directorate of professional standards, said the force would implement any changes.

He added: “All officers are trained in first aid and know they have a duty of care to assist anyone taken unwell; they do this day in and day out in London.

“We teach that all officers involved in an incident have a responsibility to continually assess a detainee’s condition, particularly if they have been restrained.”

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