Monday, August 25, 2008

Crown Office refuses damages claim of disabled boy cleared of ‘racist attack’

The Crown Office, described by one currently serving Scottish Cabinet Minister as being “the most corrupt institution in Scotland”, has refused to pay damages to a disabled boy it pursued over a ‘racist attack’.

Sounds typical for the Crown Office ? That would be a “Yes” …

The Scotsman reports :

Down's syndrome boy cleared of racist attack is refused damages claim

By Tanya Thompson

SCOTLAND'S prosecutors have refused to accept liability in the case of a teenager with Down's syndrome who was charged with carrying out a racist attack.

The case of Jamie Bauld provoked a public outcry last year after the youngster, who has a mental age of five, was accused of attacking an Asian girl at a college in Motherwell.

After seven months, the case was dropped and the Bauld family launched a damages claim against the police and Crown Office, insisting the case should never have gone that far.

Now the boy's parents, Jim and Fiona Bauld, are furious after they received a letter from the Crown Office saying the family has "no basis" for legal proceedings.

The Crown Office has stated its refusal to accept liability in the case, a move that effectively dismisses the family's claim for damages against it.

Lawyers say the Bauld family has been left with little choice other than to take the case to court, at great cost to the public purse.

Last week, Fiona Bauld said her son had no concept of what racism was and it was therefore ludicrous to have pursued the case against him. "They charged my son … they said it was assault and racial abuse," she said.

"This is a child with Down's syndrome … it is absolutely ridiculous. This whole thing has been a waste of taxpayers' money and a complete waste of my time and Jamie's time."

She added: "We rang the Crown Office five times to explain that he had special needs but it was not prepared to listen."

In April, the Crown Office offered a rare apology to the family after the heavy-handed treatment Jamie received from the authorities.

Jamie, now 19, was read his rights by police and referred to the procurator fiscal for assault and breach of the peace following a minor scuffle with an Asian girl, who also has special needs, last September.

Mrs Bauld claims her son had complained about the girl following him and staring at him, and when she approached him one day, he pushed her and told her to go away.

The incident was described by his parents as nothing more than a playground squabble, but soon after, they were told a notice had been placed in a local newspaper asking for witnesses to a "racial assault".

It is not known who placed the advert, but two police officers came to Jamie's house and interviewed him about the incident. This was followed by a letter from the procurator fiscal saying there was enough evidence for charges to be brought.

The Baulds faced the threat of a court case hanging over them for nearly eight months before the authorities informed them that the proceedings against Jamie were to be dropped.

The family were furious when it was suggested they should work with Jamie and a team of social workers to address some of the issues. Urged to attend a "diversion from prosecution" scheme with the local social work department, they refused, insisting they had done nothing wrong.

Mrs Bauld, from Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, claims Jamie has been deeply traumatised by the whole experience.

"Jamie's hair was falling out and he was going to see a psychologist because of the stress he has suffered," she explained.

"Someone has to take responsibility for what my son has been through."

Mr and Mrs Bauld believe their son was a victim of a zero-tolerance policy on racism, under which police have to respond to any complaint, however minor.

Mrs Bauld described the case, which provoked outraged when it was broadcast on BBC news programmes, as "utterly beyond belief".

She said it was obvious Jamie did not understand the offence of racial assault because, having been read his rights by a policeman, he shook the officer's hand and thanked him for the home visit.

The mother of two said the case was made all the more ironic given the family had just returned from a trip to the Caribbean, and her son had not even noticed the difference in skin colour among the children he befriended on holiday. Just weeks after their return, the debacle unfolded.

"Jamie has no concept of racism," she added. "Down's syndrome children look at every person the same way. They don't see colour and race when they look at a person.

"We had just come back from Jamaica, and he never even noticed that they were a different colour.

"He has Asian friends ... it was never an issue."

Cameron Fyfe, the family's lawyer, believes the case is an example of "political correctness gone mad". He said the family was effectively given a warning that they felt was an insult.

"As soon as the authorities realised the boy had Down's syndrome they should have said 'no further proceedings'," he said.

"It dragged on for seven months and the family were being caused great distress. We had hoped the Crown might settle out of court but when they reply to the effect that the family is not getting a penny, the only option is to go ahead with a court action.

"When there is so much crime on the streets, for them to spend so much time and attention on this matter is beyond belief," Fyfe added.

Charity organisation Down's Syndrome Scotland said it was hoped lessons would be learned from the case, as the proper procedures had not been followed.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Office said: "We appreciate that this has been a distressing situation for Mr and Mrs Bauld and their son Jamie, and we have offered our apology for that.

"We made it clear, at the time the apology was offered, that there were a number of inquiries that are required to be made by the procurator fiscal before a final decision could be taken in this very sensitive case, something which the family were aware of.

"In response to a letter from solicitors acting on behalf of the Baulds, we explained our position that the length of time taken to reach a decision would not provide any basis for a claim for compensation

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