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Volume 502: debated on Monday 7 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will bring forward proposals for a protocol for police officers dealing with people with learning difficulties; (303983)

(2) what training police forces give to police officers on dealing with people with learning difficulties.

[holding answer 3 December 2009]: The Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) and Police Community Support Officer learning programme contain modules relating to dealing with individuals with learning difficulties. A list of these modules is given in table 1.

Police training for all officers and staff is being reviewed to ensure that mental ill health and learning difficulties are covered appropriately. The National Policing Improvement Agency has developed guidance on the ‘Police Response to People with Mental Ill Health and Learning Disabilities’ on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

It has been developed in response to the recommendations of Lord Bradley's review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system (April 2009).

A new Mental Ill Health Learning Programme will take a more focused and detailed approach in looking at mental ill health and learning disabilities, identifying the difference between the two and being able to identify symptoms, indicators and responses to a range of disabilities in a wide variety of policing situations. A list of topics and outcomes is given in table 2. Mind, Mencap and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health have been consulted throughout the development of this learning programme.

The contents of table 2 only identify where a specific focus has been drawn to persons with a disability or learning difficulties. There is a strong thread throughout IPLDP promoting equality and dealing with people in a fair and ethical manner by recognising and responding to their needs in respect of race and diversity, as set out in the Disability Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act.

An e-learning module is being developed as part of the Mental Ill Health Learning Programme to support the new guidance. The e-learning module, which is designed for all public-facing officers, will be part of initial training and will be available to all Home Office police forces.

The overarching intention of the guidance, practice advice and training is to reduce the risk of harm to the individual, to members of the community and to policing personnel.

Table 1: Modules currently included in the IPLDP and Police Community Support Officer Learning Programme

Name of module


Assessing the needs of individuals and provide advice and support

Identifying vulnerable witnesses (behavioural characteristics and physical characteristics), who may be vulnerable and why. It also looks at communicating with such individuals, special measures provided for vulnerable witnesses including the identification of such needs on the appropriate documentation in file completion. There is also an appendix of common conditions including those that could affect communication, with a summary of that condition.

Using police actions in a fair and justified way

The student notes cover communication skills and highlights some conditions that could affect communication.

Interviewing victims and witnesses

Includes a section on vulnerable witnesses/victims and specifically highlights the potential for communication difficulties and misunderstandings arising.

Interviewing suspects

Dealing with vulnerable people, whether they are a victim, witness or suspect and the need to treat vulnerable people with particular consideration at all times. It looks at whether individuals are fit to be interviewed, and mental health issues, physical disorder, health and behaviour are discussed. It also looks at communication difficulties, the need for appropriate adults in certain situations and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1985 code of practice in relation to interviewing those who may have a learning difficulty or a mental health issue.

Prepare and present case information, present evidence and finalise investigations

Includes a section on witnesses with learning difficulties and deals with how witnesses with learning difficulties may find the criminal justice process especially stressful, and on occasion, traumatic. High stress reduces the person's ability to participate and respond to questioning, or effectively recall events in order to assist the fact finding process of the criminal justice system. The student notes associated with this module look at pre-trial support to aid this process.

Victims and witnesses

This looks at the code of practice for the victims of crime and specifically deals with vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

Strategies for dealing with persons suffering from mental disorder

This module specifically covers learning in relation to the legal term of learning disabilities' within the Mental Health Act 1983. It also covers identifying people with learning difficulties and court appearances for people with learning difficulties.

Mental health

The module includes a chapter dedicated to dealing with and interviewing people with learning difficulties and mental disorders. It looks at communication and memory difficulties and responses to perceived aggression. The mental Capacity Act 2005 is explored to ensure that officers have an understanding of Section 44 of the Act - III Treatment or Neglect. It fully explains the concept of lacking capacity, inability to make decisions and acting in the best interests of the individual.

Table 2

Topics and outcomes covered by e-learning


(aim) Demonstrate an understanding of a range of learning disabilities to be able to effectively communicate with and support the individual


Skills and strategies to break down possible barriers to communication when dealing with a person who has a learning disability.


The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended in relation to learning disabilities.


The reasons why people experiencing mental ill health issues or learning disabilities are at greater risk of becoming a victim of crime.


The Association of Chief Police Officers' definition of ‘Hate Crime’ and the impact that a hate incident can have on a victim.


The meaning of ‘vulnerable’ and ‘intimidated’ witness as they apply to section 16 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.


Examples of behavioural and physical characteristics that may serve as prompts to identifying vulnerable witnesses.


Why information may be difficult to obtain from a vulnerable witness and suggest ways to overcome those difficulties.


Effective communication skills and strategies to break down possible barriers and identify individual needs of people who may be experiencing mental health problems within a variety of policing contexts.


Strategies that could help reduce the possibility of agitation when dealing with individuals experiencing a mental health problem.


Strategies for de-escalation of an existing crisis or distress situation when dealing with individuals experiencing a mental health problem.


Numerals followed by letters are references to the Learning Descriptor v 1.5

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many complaints people with learning difficulties have made against police officers in each of the last five years. (303984)

[holding answer 3 December 2009]: The Home Office does not hold this information centrally. It is a matter for each police force to retain such information.

The Police Reform Act, 2002 places a duty on all police forces to record all complaints made by members of the public about the conduct of those serving with the police. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is responsible for the collation and publication of complaints statistics for England and Wales.

Complaints made by people with learning difficulties, is not a category currently used by the IPCC in the collation of its complaints statistics. The IPCC have however recently requested that forces provide information relating to complainant disability and they are working with forces to ensure the consistent and accurate recording of these data going forward.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received from hon. Members on the conduct of police officers dealing with people with learning difficulties. (303987)

[holding answer 3 December 2009]: Since February 2008 I am aware that four hon. Members have written to Home Office Ministers regarding the conduct of police officers in dealing with people with learning difficulties. These include one from the hon. Member himself, to the Home Secretary, in June of this year.

Since the representations concerned police training matters they were passed to the Chief Executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) for consideration and a reply.