Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dragged from her classroom. Shut in a cell all day. Not even allowed to call her parents... Why did British police lock up this schoolgirl on the word of a fantasist?

Bone-headed brutes at work

Emma Raymond was wearing her school uniform when she was hauled out of class, arrested, marched across the school grounds to a waiting police car and taken to the cells. And why wouldn’t she be? She is, after all, only 16. ‘A child,’ points out her mother Victoria, bitterly.

At 9am on that day in January — a day that has left her afraid to be in the house on her own, and her parents white with fury — she was in a GCSE revision class, swotting for imminent exams.

She never got her revision done. She didn’t get her packed lunch that day either, because it was taken from her and the contents meticulously documented on the police arrest sheet.

What crime could warrant the arrest of a teenager while in class, and the holding of her in the cells for five hours? Murder? Terrorism?

No. Emma had been accused of being the ringleader of a gang who were bullying another girl, targeting her online, threatening to ‘get her’ and even hacking into her family’s webcam.

Emma opens her eyes wide. ‘I mean, hacking a webcam. How do you do that? Is it even possible? I certainly couldn’t. I failed my IT course. I have to get my little sister to help me with basic computer stuff. And all this had supposedly happened on the night before I was arrested. Hello! I was at home, watching Spider-Man with my family. If they’d asked, I could have told them that.’

What followed was the sort of Kafkaesque nightmare no parent could envisage when they wave their child off on the school bus on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday morning. Even if the allegations had been true, argues Emma’s father, Carl, ‘This would have been too heavy-handed an approach by the police.’

But Emma’s case is shocking because even the police now admit she had no case to answer. The accusations against her were entirely false.

Today her parents claim Nottinghamshire Police should have known this. Astonishingly, the same girl who made the accusations had done so around 18 months previously. And, staggeringly, it was the same police force that had investigated the earlier claims — and dismissed them.

‘The whole thing is a joke,’ says Carl. ‘It would actually be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.’

To say the experience was traumatic for Emma is an understatement. Never having been arrested before (‘the worst that had happened to her was getting detention for wearing the wrong shoes,’ says Victoria), Emma was shocked by the brutality of the process.

‘At the police station they went through my schoolbag and noted every single thing down, every pencil, every sheet of paper. They’d already taken my phone — I’d asked if I could phone my mum and they said no — then they took my packed lunch.

‘They went through my make-up bag, listing it all. They took my blazer, my shoes. They did a search and checked in my socks. And of course they took my school tie, I suppose in case I tried to hang myself with it. Do you know the best bit? It was a clip-on tie. I wouldn’t have had much success there.

‘I didn’t cry until they locked me in the cell,’ says Emma. ‘I was so confused before that, and so convinced there’d just been a mistake. I just wanted my mum and dad but they kept saying “no”.’

The occupants of the other cells seemed more familiar with the process. ‘They were all men, all shouting and swearing and kicking the doors. I was terrified.’ The officers who put her in that cell cannot have been in any doubt about her age and immaturity, though.

‘They handed me a magazine to read. It was a magazine for little girls, full of articles about One Direction.’

Meanwhile, events outside the cell were every bit as alarming. When Carl and Victoria were informed by a police welfare officer that their daughter was being held, they rushed to the station to try to see her, but were refused.

At the same time, police travelled to their family home with a search warrant. Caught in an unfolding nightmare, the couple rushed back home and stood, powerless, as their daughter’s bedroom was searched.

The police seized her laptop and two iPods — one of which didn’t even connect to the internet and was only used to play music. At 4.45pm, Emma was finally released, after being interviewed. Victoria shudders. ‘When she came out of that cell she fell into my arms and was sobbing her heart out. I don’t think they have any idea what they’ve done to her.

‘Afterwards, while we were waiting to see if she would be charged, she asked me, “Mum, am I going to going to jail?”. This was the point where she should only have been thinking about her GCSEs. The timing could not have been worse.’

Emma nods. ‘I knew I hadn’t done anything, but if you can get arrested for doing nothing, then surely you can go to jail for doing nothing.’ At the family home in leafy Mapperley, Nottingham, Emma’s parents explain why they are speaking out about their daughter’s three-month ordeal.

Normally a private family, Carl, 49, is a firefighter, while Victoria, 39, is a teaching assistant. Part of them wants to put the events of earlier this year behind them, and they are clearly mortified at being involved with the police at all.

‘People think “No smoke without fire”, don’t they?’ says Carl. ‘But we’re a normal, law-abiding family and yet — out of the blue — we found ourselves in this nightmare.’

Carl was shocked by what his daughter endured. ‘They treated her like a criminal from the off. And there was no basic humanity in how they dealt with her. At one point we begged them to let her have her GCSE coursework off that laptop.

‘We offered to give them a memory stick so they could do it themselves. They said no. There was no budging. They have put her whole future at risk. They owe my daughter an apology.’

Quite how this could have happened isn’t clear, but the family claim the girl who made the accusations had made similar ones previously against Emma.

‘She’d moved to our school in the summer of 2014,’ says Emma. ‘I was nice to her. I befriended her. I felt sorry for her. She seemed nice enough.’

Weeks later, however, the family were horrified when officers from Nottinghamshire Police arrived at their door, with accusations of online bullying. ‘We were stunned, shocked beyond words,’ says Victoria. ‘This was not the daughter we knew.’

But all too aware that teenage girls aren’t always the sweet souls that their parents think they know, the pair confronted Emma.

‘Emma was adamant she didn’t know what on earth this girl was talking about. She offered to give the police her laptop. She said, “I have nothing to hide, take it.” They refused.’

Emma insists that, at that time, there had been no bullying, indeed there had been hardly any contact outside school.

‘I didn’t even Facebook her. I honestly had no idea where this had come from. I was really upset because I’d been so nice to her. Why was she doing this?’ The family asked the school to arrange a meeting with both sets of parents, ‘to discuss what on earth was going on’, says Victoria.

‘They refused. And from the day she made the complaint, the girl stopped coming to school. She’s at another school now. She has been bullied there, too, it seems.’

They thought the matter finished. Then on a Wednesday morning in January this year, not long after she’d dropped her daughter to the bus stop, Victoria was shocked to receive a phone call from the school saying the police were there and wanted to speak to Emma.

She made no connection to the previous bullying complaint. ‘Had she done something? I said to them I didn’t want the police speaking to Emma without me there. They said that the police would contact me.’

Distraught, Victoria got in the car to drive to the school, but pulled over halfway there to ring again.

‘They told me the police had gone. I assumed Emma was in class. I went home. I had no idea that they had actually taken her in a police car, and I’m furious that I didn’t know that.

‘She is a vulnerable teenager and was in a police car with two male police officers, not even a female one. It makes me go cold thinking about it. As a parent, I should have known where she was.’ Meanwhile, from the back of the police car, Emma was making attempts to call her mum.

‘I got my phone out in the back of the car. They said: “You can’t use that.” I said, “But surely I’m allowed a phone call? I only want to tell my mum where I am.” They said no. I went to switch the phone off and one of them said to the other “They were right about her. She does have an attitude.” ’

Emma wasn’t taken to her local police station but a bigger one at Mansfield, half an hour away.

She describes the moment the accusations were put to her. ‘They said they thought I was involved in harassment and improper use of computers,’ she says. ‘The minute they started talking about bullying, the penny dropped. I knew it was this girl. What I didn’t know was why.’

Emma insists she had not seen the girl, or had any contact either on the phone or online, since the first bullying allegations 18 months previously. Yet according to police, a more recent ‘campaign of bullying’ had been ongoing. ‘They said this girl had had messages put in her bag.

‘She’d been sent stuff — threats — online. There was apparently this guy, Dave, who’d been employed to do the nasty work — by me,’ Emma says. ‘I’ve never even heard of someone called Dave.’

Carl was allowed to be in the room when Emma was finally interviewed by the police at around 3pm on the day of the arrest. ‘At this point I was shaking, I was sweating,’ he says. ‘I was in a worse state than Emma, if I’m honest. I thought: “They must have some serious evidence here if they have gone to these lengths.” ’

What was unveiled, however, was ‘a joke’. They pulled out a piece of A4 paper, a printout from a few Facebook messages allegedly sent by Emma. This girl wasn’t mentioned. One message, supposedly from Emma to a friend, said “We will get her.” ’

Emma interjects. ‘You could see immediately it had just been Photoshopped or something. It wasn’t a real message. I never sent it.’ According to Emma it was sent to a Facebook account she had never used before. ‘Surely these things are easy enough to verify?’

Carl says he challenged the officers. ‘I remember saying, “Is this it? Who is this Dave? Have you spoken to him?” They admitted they hadn’t. They went shuffling their papers, looking embarrassed. They said they had lots more. But obviously they didn’t. Yet they put us through that, for three months.’

The family were initially critical of the school, too, for their complicity, but now appear to feel that the school were also victims. ‘The headmaster was told not to discuss it with us, so in a way their hands were tied,’ says Victoria. ‘But I still feel they had a duty of care to my daughter.’

They accuse both the school and police of ‘hysteria’ over the idea of ‘being seen to be on top of bullying’.

‘As far as I can see, this has happened because they’ve been criticised in the past for not taking bullying seriously,’ says Carl.

‘The problem is that they charged in and went after my daughter without doing any basic policing first. They took the word of one person against the other without looking at the facts.’ What’s contemptible, he says, was that Emma was assumed guilty.

‘I was there. I saw how they spoke to her, how they spoke to us, and they assumed guilt. That’s not right.

‘It is not the way this country works, and I say this as someone who has friends and family in the police, who has always supported them. I’d never have had them down as the bad guys, but this has changed everything. I do not trust them now.’

The family have made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Although Nottinghamshire Police admit their actions were ‘distressing’ to the family, and have pointed out they would not normally enter school premises to make an arrest, they say: ‘As a result of new information and an escalation of the potential risk, a decision was made to make the arrest at the earliest possible opportunity.

‘The subsequent investigation has shown this information to be false and no further action was taken.’

This is little comfort for Emma, who is still waiting to see if the stress affected her GCSEs — she’ll get her results later this month — and is still reeling from the ordeal.

‘I don’t like to be on my own in the house. Every time the doorbell goes I worry it’s the police and that they are going to take me away again.’

As she is photographed for our article, Emma experiences a sudden flashback to the bewildering moment she had her mug shots and DNA taken by police. A worrying thought suddenly assails her. ‘Mum, will this mean I have trouble travelling to America. Will my mug shot come up at immigration?’

Perhaps the most troubling aspect is the family still do not know why Emma was targeted by this girl. No action has been taken against the other child, as far as the family are aware.  ‘It is not in the public interest, apparently,’ says an incredulous Carl. ‘And what they did to my daughter is in the public interest?’

Original report here

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