‘Excessive and cruel’ - parents of autistic man fight to get him out of prison

A screenshot of Marcus Potter filming police in London from the video 'A day with... Marcus Potter'.

A screenshot of Marcus Potter filming police in London from the video 'A day with... Marcus Potter'. Photo: Youtube/Happy TV - Credit: Youtube/Happy TV

A campaign has started to get an autistic man who keeps filming the police out of prison. A public nuisance or a vulnerable man failed by the system? Tom Bristow reports on the case of Marcus Potter.

Martin Potter, Marcus' dad, believes prison is the wrong place for someone as vulnerable as his son.

Martin Potter, Marcus' dad, believes prison is the wrong place for someone as vulnerable as his son. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

On November 16 Marcus Potter had an appointment at the Job Centre in Norwich.

The 20-year-old, who was diagnosed with autism when he was three, walked past Bethel Street Police Station on his way to the centre and started making rude gestures at it, breaching bail conditions put on him by Norwich Crown Court for previous offences.

He was arrested by police the next day at his home in Wymondham for breaching his bail and has been in Norwich Prison ever since.

His dad Martin said this is the culmination of years of failed attempts to get support and help for Marcus who also has Crohn's disease and depression.

Norwich Prison. Photo: Steve Adams

Norwich Prison. Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

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His parents are angry, believing it is 'excessive and cruel' to put their son in prison while he awaits a court hearing later in January for breaching his bail conditions.

Norfolk police said they have tried other ways of dealing with Mr Potter over the years he has been filming their officers.

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They said that filming has put Mr Potter and the public in danger.

According to his dad Martin, 58, Marcus became fixated with police around three years ago.

Marcus Potter was arrested for breaching his bail by standing outside Bethel Street police station a

Marcus Potter was arrested for breaching his bail by standing outside Bethel Street police station and making gestures. Photo: Archant - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

He uploads videos to YouTube of police officers and follows them. But his filming unnerved some police officers and put him in harm's way.

It has led to him being arrested and appearing in court numerous times for causing distress through his filming.

His dad said Marcus had had good and bad dealings with the officers he filmed and had spent nights in jail, but had never been put in prison.

He will have to stay in Norwich Prison for breaching his bail until at least January 19 when he appears before the courts again.

'It is excessive and cruel to put him in prison,' his dad said. 'It is not going to solve the problem.'

Martin, who works in office services, said the seven weeks in prison had done his son no good. He is allowed three visits a month and last saw him on Christmas Eve.

'He hates it in there and wants to get out,' he said.

Martin recalled his son had been good with computers and technology since he was a child.

'He loves rules, that is how he operates,' he said. 'He has a strong sense of justice. He likes the rules to be clear. He would have liked to have been in the police himself.'

Martin said after Marcus left secondary school in Hethersett they tried to get social services support for him but none was available.

It means he has lived off benefits and his parents and now claims universal credit.

But when he tried to get a benefit called Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which supports people who can not work because of an illness, he was rejected twice.

'We feel Marcus has had a harsh time,' his parents said. 'He has constantly had to endure being mocked and bullied because he is different.'

To try to stop his filming of the police, the courts gave Mr Potter a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO).

It stops him from approaching police officers, unless in danger or reporting a crime, and stops him filming officers or police buildings.

A spokesman for Norfolk police said: 'The criminal behaviour order is a necessary measure in order to ensure Mr Potter does not present a danger to himself or the general public through his actions.'

But he breached the CBO last year by allegedly harassing a former inspector and contacting an officer.

He appeared in court for those offences and was bailed on the condition he would not enter Norwich apart from to visit the Job Centre.

He breached those conditions by standing outside Bethel Street Police Station and making gestures on November 16.

The spokesman added: 'It is important to note that Norfolk Police have well-established links with partner support agencies and have engaged with them in relation to this particular case to ensure all interventions were and are considered.'

An online petition to free Mr Potter had gathered around 3,000 signatures by Thursday.

It reads: 'His condition means he can be socially naive and fail to understand the implications of his behaviour. Marcus has been let down by various professional bodies and has received punishment where he should have received support.

'There is something seriously wrong with our justice system if someone is remanded in custody instead of being offered the appropriate support.'

•Autism and the police

A spokesman for the National Police Autism Association (NPAA) said autism was no excuse for committing crimes, but autistic behaviour did need to be taken into account by the criminal justice system.

They said: 'It is important that individuals on the autism spectrum are dealt with appropriately according to their needs when coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

'Due to communication issues and difficulty regulating emotion, autistic people are vulnerable regardless of their age or station in life, and should be treated as such.

NPAA spokesman Adam O'Loughlin added: 'Having autism is not an excuse for criminal or anti-social behaviour.

'However the NPAA advocate that there is a need for the outward traits displayed by many autistic people to be recognised by all criminal justice agencies, and for appropriate safeguarding measures to be put in place.'

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