1 November 2018
Today the Mental Health (Use of Force) Bill has received Royal Assent in Parliament, eight years after the death of Seni Lewis for whom it is intended as a lasting legacy. Known as Seni’s Law, the Bill will increase protections and oversight on use of force in mental health settings.
The Private Members Bill brought by Steve Reed MP is named after Olaseni ‘Seni’ Lewis, a 23 year old IT graduate who died as a result of prolonged restraint by police officers whilst a voluntary inpatient at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Croydon in 2010.
Steve Reed MP has worked closely with the family of Seni Lewis, who are constituents of Croydon North. He worked on this Bill with the family’s lawyer Raju Bhatt, INQUEST, and a coalition of NGOs including Agenda , Article 39, Mind, Rethink and YoungMinds.
Throughout its passage in Parliament and the Lords the Bill has received cross party support. It also led the Minister Jackie Doyle Price to make commitments to consider the issue of the lack of independent investigations into deaths in mental health settings.
In 2017 an inquest jury unanimously condemned the actions of police and healthcare staff who watched on as Seni was restrained by 11 police officers. The inquest found the force used was excessive, disproportionate, and contributed to Seni’s death. His family have welcomed the Bill as an opportunity to prevent further deaths.
On 30 October 1998, David ‘Rocky’ Bennett died following excessive restraint in a mental health unit. A public inquiry into his death recommended formal recording of the use of restraint, consideration of racial and gender discrimination, and improved training and oversight. At long last, the Royal Assent of this Bill will create a statutory duty to ensure many of the recommendations of the inquiry into this death 20 years ago are belatedly enacted.
Aji Lewis, mother of Seni Lewis said: “When Seni became ill, we took him to hospital which we thought was the best place for him. We shall always bear the cross of knowing that, instead of the help and care he needed, Seni met with his death.
It took us years of struggle to find out what happened to Seni: the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital where, instead of looking after him, they called the police to deal with him; and the brute force with which the police held Seni in a prolonged restraint which they knew to be dangerous, a restraint that was maintained until Seni was dead for all intents and purposes.
We don’t want anyone else to go through what our son went through. That is why we have supported this initiative by Steve Reed MP which has culminated today in Seni’s Law. We welcome it in his memory, in the hope that it proves to be a lasting legacy in his name, so that no other family has to suffer as we have suffered.”
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “Seni Lewis was failed by the very people that were meant to keep him safe and died a violent death after excessive restraint. The Lewis family have fought tirelessly for eight years to ensure that no one else dies in such horrific circumstances. They have been the driving force behind this bill.
High levels of restraint are routinely used behind the closed walls of secure settings inflicting physical and psychological harms and the ever-present risk of death. Disproportionately restraint is used against people from black and minority ethnic groups, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities and autism. We hope the protections of this bill and greater scrutiny and oversight will drive the cultural change and practice needed, end the abusive use of force and ensure those in crisis are treated with dignity and respect.
This important step is not the end but the beginning. INQUEST, alongside bereaved families, will continue to work to ensure the guidance and changes arising from Seni’s Law leave the best possible legacy. There is more work to be done, but this is a momentous move in the right direction.”
Steve Reed MP, who tabled the Bill, said: “This new law will save lives and gives mental health patients in the UK some of the best protection in the world from abusive restraint. INQUEST’s support and advice has been critical in getting this change.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
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If enacted changes the Bill would make include:
- Increased oversight and management of use of force in mental health units;
- Improved regulation to reduce levels of force used;
- Improved arrangements between police and mental health units, including requiring police to wear body cameras when attending these units;
INQUEST has worked on numerous disturbing cases of deaths following restraint in mental health settings, and involving the police. Currently there is no robust monitoring of incidents of force in mental health units, despite evidence which suggests there is disproportionate use against black and minority ethnic communities, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities.
Read more about INQUEST’s long held concerns about the disproportionate use of force in mental health settings, in this article in Progress Magazine: Restraint and race: it’s time we listened to the evidence.