Saturday, April 19, 2008

Scottish law enforcement apologizes for charging teen with Down syndrome for assault

Jamie Bauld with his parents.

The Scottish prosecution office has formally apologized for charging Jamie Bauld, a young man with Down syndrome, for racism and assault. STV reported April 17 that the case against Jamie would not go to court.

More than seven months ago, Jamie, 19, was involved in a minor incident with an Asian girl with an intellectual disability at the special needs department of Motherwell College, where they are both students. The college reprimanded them, but a notice appeared in the local newspaper seeking witnesses to a "racial assault" at the college, so police questioned and then charged Jamie several days later.

The Daily Mail described the incident this way: "girl irritated boy, boy pushed girl and told her to go away. Then, girl responded by telling her teacher."

"In Scotland the age of criminal responsibility is eight years old," according to STV. "Physically, Jamie Bauld is 19, but mentally, it is difficult to say. He can read and use a computer but he cannot tie his shoelaces or go out on his own. That did not stop the police treating him as an adult and charging him with assault."

Jamie's parents, Jim and Fiona, told the BBC that Jamie can't understand a concept like racism, and that Jamie thanked police officers who told him he could be charged with racial assault.

"I don't think the police have enough training to cope with people with learning difficulties," Fiona Bauld told the BBC."If they have to come over and speak to someone they should bring along somebody who can deal with people with learning difficulties."

Jim Bauld added: "They were addressing Jamie like he was over 18, but I told them he couldn't deal with questioning like that. He'll more or less say what you want him to say, simple as that."

Pandora Summerfield, director of Down's Syndrome Scotland, told the BBC they were concerned by the handling of Jamie's case.

She said: "As far as we're aware there are very clear guidelines that the police should follow when they interview somebody who is classified as a vulnerable adult and as far as we know, because we haven't had any direct involvement with the family, those weren't followed in this incident and they should have been."