Suicide of teenagers sparks legal action by charity & campaign for law change by bereaved parents

Third Suicide in Three Years Linked to Failure to Treat 17 year olds in Police Stations as Children

Three grieving families have joined forces to demand that the Home Secretary protect arrested 17 year olds.  In all three families, their 17 year old children took their own lives following their treatment as adults in police stations.

 

The bereaved parents of Joe Lawton and Eddie Thornber say that Home Secretary Theresa May MP should keep a promise she made to them last year and provide 17 year olds held in the police station with all the protections that children aged 16 and under are entitled to.  The Lawtons and Thornbers are now being joined in their campaign by the family of Kesia Leatherbarrow. Kesia was a vulnerable 17 year old who killed herself in December 2013, after being arrested and held in a police cell for three days.  All six parents have now written personally to the Home Secretary calling on her to take urgent action to prevent any more children of this age coming to harm.

 

The three families are also supporting separate legal action being taken by the charity Just for Kids Law against the Home Office for failing to act.  Doughty Street’s Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Martha Spurrier and Kate O’Raghallaigh act for Just for Kids Law in this legal challenge.

 

HC Case

This legal action comes a year after successful action was brought against the Home Secretary by a 17 year old, Hughes Cousins-Chang, who was represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher.  His claim was backed by Just for Kids Law.  In R (HC) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin); [2014] 1 W.L.R. 1234; [2013] Crim. L.R. 918; [2013] A.C.D. 94 the Divisional Court ruled that the Home Secretary had acted unlawfully in failing to amend a Code of Practice issued under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE Code C) to ensure that 17 year olds in police custody were treated as children, including in particular being provided with Appropriate Adults.  Hughes Cousins-Chang’s case resulted in a change to the law in October 2013, when a new PACE Code C was issued.  This ensures that the 70,000 17 year olds held in police custody every year now benefit from additional safeguards.     

 

Just for Kids Law’s New Challenge

Although PACE Code C has been amended, there remain anomalies in how 17 year olds are treated in the primary legislation itself, PACE and the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.  There is particular concern about overnight detention of 17 year olds in police cells.  17 year olds have no right to be transferred to local authority care overnight, which is available to all other children who are being held after arrest.  As a result of this, Kesia was held in the police station all weekend (two nights and three days), rather than being moved to accommodation suitable for children, before she went to court on the Monday morning to face minor charges.

 

Further Information

More information available in the Just for Kids Law press release and in the Sunday TimesThe Justice Gap and BBC Newsnight.

 

The campaign can also be followed on twitter at #stillachildat17

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