How can my son be racist, asks mother of Down's boy charged after playground spat with Asian girl
By NATASHA COURTENAY-SMITH - More by this author » Last updated at 23:33pm on 17th April 2008
Until recently, Fiona Bauld thought her 18-year-old son Jamie had not fully grasped the gravity of the situation he found himself in.
It brought her solace that her child, who has Down's syndrome and the mental age of a five-year-old, hadn't fully comprehended the charges of racism and assault against him, let alone begun to contemplate the consequences.[....]
The events which have brought her such anguish in recent months begun with what was effectively a playground spat between two individuals with special needs.
It soon escalated into a seven-month criminal investigation that could have resulted in Fiona's son being hauled before a court and left with a criminal record.
Last September, Jamie - who is 18 but cannot even tie his own shoelaces, needs help on the lavatory, mustn't be left alone in the house and still relies on his mother to tuck him up in bed at night - had an altercation with an Asian girl of a similar age, also a pupil at the special needs department of Motherwell College in Lanarkshire, where Jamie is a student.
Put quite simply - girl irritated boy, boy pushed girl and told her to go away. Then, girl responded by telling her teacher.
The two were sent their separate ways and their parents informed about the falling out.
Given their mental ages, it was no more significant than a playground spat between two five-year-olds. That should have been the end of it.
Instead, a notice was placed in the local newspaper - it is not known by whom - asking for witnesses to a "racial assault" at the college on the day in question.
Whether this notice led to the police investigation, or whether the family of the girl contacted them directly is still not clear. Either way, just over a week later, Jamie was charged with racism and assault.
It was an insane example of overzealous political correctness; a local zero-tolerance policy on racism taken to its extremes without any common sense being applied, let alone consideration for the unusual circumstances of the individuals involved.
After months of stress and fear, the Baulds' ordeal came to an end yesterday when, in a remarkable climbdown, the Crown Office issued a formal apology to the family for any distress caused over the past seven months.
All charges have now been dropped, but this, says Fiona, is not enough.
Not only have they encountered confusion, red tape and a lack of compassion in their dealings with the Scottish legal system, they are left fearing that Jamie will forever have a blot on his reputation as a result of being charged at all.
"Our family has been put through a terrible ordeal over nothing," says Fiona. "It is utterly ridiculous that the authorities brought adult charges against our son, who was not only innocent, but clearly unable to comprehend why he was in trouble.
"For instance, when the police arrived to interview Jamie, he welcomed them with a big smile and a handshake. As they read him his rights, he said thank you for coming to see him, and agreed with everything they said."
Those with Down's syndrome often agree with whatever they are told simply to please other people.
Fiona continues: "I said: 'Do you realise he doesn't understand what you are saying?' while the police officers shifted uncomfortably and admitted they had no training in dealing with anyone with special needs.
"But the official process had by then swung into action. From that point on, it seemed there was nothing my husband or I could do to halt it."[....]
"Jamie has got through school, and is now doing a life skills course at Motherwell College, which makes me burst with pride," she says. "He has friends, he's sociable and chatty.
"He's a very loving, kind person. He dotes on his sister, and if she is out, he refuses to go to bed until she gets in."
"Before this incident at college, Jamie had told us on a couple of occasions that this girl kept following him, staring at him and putting her face really close to his without saying anything," says Fiona.
"We told him just to ignore her, and she'd soon get bored.
"Then, on September 4, we got a call from the college saying they'd had a falling out and Jamie had hit her. I talked to him, and he was adamant he hadn't hit her, but had pushed her away when he was eating lunch.[....]
The family went away on holiday, putting the incident behind them. But on their return, they were notified by the college that the girl's family had contacted the police, who had taken it upon themselves to question other students and staff at the college.
They now wanted to talk to Jamie about allegations of racism and assault.[....]
However, the police interview a few days later, Jamie was charged with racism and assault.
"I was panicking and saying it was crazy, that Jamie doesn't even understand things like upstairs and downstairs, whether a door is open or shut, but Jamie stood up, shook their hands and said: 'Thanks very much'," says Fiona.
The officers, says Fiona, were pleasant enough and advised the family "the case probably wouldn't come to anything".
They said they would explain to the Procurator Fiscal (a public officer in Scotland who prosecutes in petty cases) that Jamie had Down's syndrome.
They revealed that the girl had also admitted to scratching her own face - either to her family or to police officers.
But shortly after the visit, a letter arrived from the Procurator Fiscal saying the authorities had enough evidence to charge Jamie.
That was when all hell broke loose for us as a family," says Fiona. "I read the letter with shaking hands, and I was crying my eyes out. I phoned the Procurator's office five times and asked if they knew Jamie had Down's syndrome, but no one would talk about the case with me.
"I went to the police, and no one there seemed to know what was going on. I would have been able laugh at the total chaos and incompetence were it not for the fact that I knew that, at 18, Jamie is technically an adult.
"I was genuinely terrified that he would end up in the dock on trial for something he didn't do."
During December, Fiona asked the family lawyer to write to the Procurator Fiscal's office explaining the situation. They did not receive a reply.[....]
It was only a fortnight ago - seven-and-a-half months after the initial incident - that the family received a brief letter from the Procurator Fiscal saying he would not be proceeding with the prosecution. There was no apology.
"Jamie has said he's happy it's all over, and he is back to being his usual sunny self," says Fiona.[....] http://www.dailymail.co.uk
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