Inquiry launched after Cumbria social worker urges police to arrest disabled man

A social worker advised care workers who were trying to calm down a distressed autistic man with the mental age of a toddler to have him arrested.

But the police officers called out by 49-year-old Ian Air’s carers refused.

Despite him having attacked one of his carers, the two officers refused to detain him because of the severity of his disability.

Yet when his brother and the officers took Ian Air to Carlisle’s Carleton Clinic staff offered him a bed but said they could not guarantee his safety.

Social Services are now investigating while bosses at the Carleton Clinic have apologised. Meanwhile Alan, Ian’s twin brother, has formally complained.

He explained that until February his brother had lived with their parents, Bill and Zena Air. The couple – both in their late 80s – became too frail to care for Ian and reluctantly agreed he should be looked after by Carlisle-based learning disability charity the Glenmore Trust.

Alan described his twin brother as a “very gentle person,” usually liked by those he meets.

Ian moved to a shared home near Carlisle with two other disabled adults in February, but by April he was suffering profound grief, triggered by the separation from his parents, said Alan. He began lashing out, often screaming for his mum and dad.

Alan said: “Things came to a head on Saturday night when Ian attacked one of his front-line carers.

“I got a call and went straight there. Ian was in the living room for his own protection and the carer was on the phone to an out-of-hours Social Services crisis team.

“The carer said that she couldn’t believe what the social worker had said: that it might be better if the police arrested Ian and took him away.

“To their credit, the two female officers refused. They recognised Ian’s disability, arguing that a police cell wasn’t the best place to put somebody with the mental age of a toddler.”

Instead, the officers went with Ian, accompanied by Alan and his partner Frank Giepen, to the Carleton Clinic for help.

A doctor there spoke sympathetically to Ian and assessed him. But afterwards, said Alan, staff said that while they could offer Ian a bed in the secure unit they could not guarantee his safety, so Alan took his brother home.

“My faith in Social Services has been absolutely shattered,” said Alan, a freelance PR consultant.

“It’s unacceptable that social workers can call for somebody with learning disabilities, in great distress, to be arrested.”

Alan praised Ian’s front-line carers at the Glenmore Trust but added: “For months, Ian’s carers were crying out for help as his distress grew worse.

“Ian sees our parents every week, and I bring him to my home as much as I can. But he clearly misses the only life he has ever known.”

Cumbria police confirmed that the two officers had been asked to arrest Ian Air, but had refused.

A Cumbria County Council spokesman said: “There are occasions where we consider there is a risk to the individual concerned or to others and on those occasions then we may request police assistance to ensure they are taken to a place of safety. We will fully investigate the circumstances behind this particular incident.”

A spokeswoman for the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Carleton Clinic, said: “We are working with the family to resolve the situation.”

She said that staff who assessed Ian Air felt the clinic’s Hadrian Unit was not the best place for him but had offered weekend support.

She apologised for any “confusion and concern” caused by the way Alan Air was told this and stressed that the unit has always provided a safe and therapeutic environment.

Andrew Shekell, of the Glenmore Trust, said every effort is made to give staff extra training when it was needed. The trust has an on-call system when there is an out-of-hours crisis. Staff can also contact the out-of-hours GP or social worker.

He said police were only called if a client posed a serious physical threat. On Saturday, there was a “sustained physical assault” on a staff member, he said.

Mr Shekell added: “The question is whether the arrest of someone who has a clear learning disability or mental health problem is an appropriate way to enable them to get the urgent treatment they need. It may be time for the whole process to be reviewed.”

Ian Air is currently being assessed at another Carleton Clinic unit, where staff are offering “first class” care, Alan Air pointed out.