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“Drunk and disorderly? No, I have a head injury”

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    Judith leach considers the Headway Brain injury identification card introduced last year to assist those following a head injury where their actions and behaviours can cause them to be mistakenly considered drunk and disorderly.

    By Judith Leach

I was recently reading an interesting article about a young man, who described how the effects of a head injury that occurred when he was 21 has resulted in him being wrongly arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and how he’s overcome it.

In 1994, Dominic, then 21, was working abroad. Dominic and his friends were out on rented mopeds.  Dominic fell off his moped but has no recollection of how this occurred.  He was not wearing a helmet and sustained a severe head injury. He was repatriated to the UK and spent several months in hospital and was in a coma for 3 months.

Dominic’s family were told by his treating doctors that he would be unlikely to walk or talk again. However, he has defied all expectations and, although he continues to live with paralysis on his right side, he has learnt to write with his left (non-dominant) hand and can speak, although in a slurred manner. He has significant long-term memory impairment and has a total blank of the accident and the following 12 months of recovery. He can only remember snapshots from his childhood.

Dominic’s experiences with the police

Unfortunately, due to his brain injury, Dominic can appear drunk. Particularly as one of the unfortunate results of a head injury is that under stress a person can become agitated.

Dominic described being arrested on a few occasions; the first was when he complained about a meal in a restaurant. As he was trying to explain to the staff they locked the door and told him he had to pay. The police were called. Due to his agitation, he got into an argument with the police and because he sounded drunk and was stumbling, another effect of his head injury, he was handcuffed, thrown in the back of the police car and put in a cell overnight.  It was not until the following morning when his agitation had abated that he was able to explain.

Other experiences have included taxi drivers demanding pre-payment before driving him anywhere, and further occasions where he has been taken to a police cell, believed to be drunk and disorderly. Dominic has been separated from his friends so they were unable to have the opportunity of explaining the reasons for his behaviour, he has been dragged from cars, had his hands forced behind his back, been handcuffed and generally received harsh treatment that essentially made him feel like a common criminal. Each time he was seen as ‘just another drunk’.

A new idea to help the brain injured

After experiencing these issues on a regular basis, Dominic has now been issued with a brain injury identification card from Headway. The card describes the head injury side effects that he may display.

The identification card gives the name of the person, a legal assistance telephone number to call, and indications of the effects he might display as a result of that brain injury, e.g.

  • I have difficulty processing information;
  • I have attention or concentration difficulties;
  • I experience fatigue;
  • I may have anxiety.

The Headway card was launched nationally in July 2017 by Prince Harry and offers hope to all those in a similar situation.

The Chief Executive of Headway stated “Many people with head injuries are assumed to be drunk as a result of having slurred speech or an unsteady gait. Attempts to explain the effect of their brain injury are often ignored. The ID card aims to raise awareness within the criminal justice system and help police officers understand the situation at the earliest opportunity.  It is hopefully a simple solution to a tricky conversation and also hopefully it will give the people who carry the card a confidence boost.

You can work hard to raise awareness but you may not reach every police officer and that is where the ID card comes in”.

The Scheme has received support from the National Police Chiefs Council, the Police of Scotland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Liaison and Diversion and the National Appropriate Adult Network.


Happily, following his accident, Dominic has returned to education and has studied graphic design at college. He is now married, having met his wife at college. It is hoped that now, with an ID card, he can live his life without worrying about being mistaken for someone who is drunk and disorderly.

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