Shocking footage obtained by The Mail on Sunday shows how police officers violently dragged a grieving father from the hospital bedside of his dying daughter shortly after he had been told her life support was being withdrawn.
The harrowing film from a police body camera shows the moment Rashid Abbasi, a 59-year-old hospital consultant, was wrenched away from his critically ill six-year-old daughter by an officer holding his neck.
Mr Abbasi, who has worked in the NHS for more than 30 years, had his legs and ankles strapped together and was wheeled away from his daughter Zainab on a trolley. His wife Aliya, a former doctor, was grabbed from behind, pulled from the bedside and fell backwards on to the floor of the hospital ward screaming.
The disturbing incident took place in a hospital in the North of England that the MoS cannot name for legal reasons. It came after the parents were involved in a protracted dispute with doctors over the care of their critically ill daughter. Medics insisted Zainab should be allowed to die but Mr and Mrs Abbasi fought for further treatment that they were convinced would keep her alive.
The harrowing film from a police body camera shows the moment Rashid Abbasi, a 59-year-old hospital consultant, was wrenched away from his critically ill six-year-old daughter by an officer holding his neck
The disturbing incident took place in a hospital in the North of England that the MoS cannot name for legal reasons
Shocking footage obtained by The Mail on Sunday shows how police officers violently dragged a grieving father from the hospital bedside of his dying daughter shortly after he had been told her life support was being withdrawn
Police were called to Zainab’s bedside after a complaint about Mr Abbasi’s behaviour.
The MoS can also reveal how:
lThe distressing footage shows that, as Mr Abbasi was arrested, a female police officer shouted: ‘You’re acting like an animal, it’s disgusting’;
lOfficers repeatedly refused to retrieve emergency medication from his pocket, despite his cries that he was suffering chest pains;
lHe says he was later told that he had suffered a heart attack and underwent a heart procedure the following day;
lMr and Mrs Abbasi fought a three-week legal battle against hospital bosses to overturn draconian reporting restrictions that prevented them telling their story;
lMr Abbasi has begun proceedings to sue police for wrongful arrest;
lIn their first newspaper interview, the couple last night condemned the ‘brutal’ and ‘callous’ way they were treated by police.
The episode shines a spotlight on how the NHS handles sensitive cases when parents disagree with medics’ decisions to withdraw their child’s life support. It follows the traumatic cases of Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard, terminally ill children whose parents fought long legal battles over their care.
Rashid and Aliya Abbasi’s daughter Zainab suffered from respiratory problems and a rare genetic illness called Niemann-Pick disease, which meant she was likely to die during childhood.
The couple clashed with Zainab’s doctors for years over her treatment. They say that on two previous occasions when Zainab was critically ill they had successfully argued for her to be treated with steroids instead of having life support withdrawn, and were proved correct when her condition improved.
It came after the parents were involved in a protracted dispute with doctors over the care of their critically ill daughter
In their first newspaper interview, the couple last night condemned the ‘brutal’ and ‘callous’ way they were treated by police
After her admission to hospital last July, Mr and Mrs Abbasi believed that, while their daughter was dangerously ill, she could survive with the right care.
But on August 19, doctors told the Abbasis that Zainab was dying. An audio recording reveals how one doctor told them that ‘the next steps would involve taking her off the ventilator’. Rashid and Aliya pleaded for further tests, but one of the doctors refused, saying the process of moving Zainab on to palliative care needed to start ‘straight away’. Rashid told them they would have to get a court order to do so.
Urged again to carry out more tests, the doctor replied ‘We are not going to be doing any more going round in circles’, adding: ‘You will never come to terms with this.’
The medics then attempted to hand the couple a letter restricting Mr Abbasi’s visiting hours amid claims that staff felt ‘threatened and intimidated’ by him.
Mr Abbasi, a respiratory expert who works at a different hospital, stormed out of the meeting but hospital staff then called police, claiming he pushed a senior doctor who attempted to prevent him returning to his daughter’s bedside. Half an hour later, four police officers and two security guards gathered at Zainab’s bedside where the devastated Abbasis and one of their sons were quietly comforting her.
The bodycam footage shows how officers asked on a number of occasions for Mr Abbasi to leave his daughter’s bedside and talk to them outside the ward but he refused.
Mrs Abbasi suggested the officers talk to her husband at the bedside. She pleaded with them to show ‘compassion’, saying: ‘We were just informed they were going to take the tube out of our daughter.’
But after just over five minutes, an officer gave Mr Abbasi a final warning before wrenching him away from his daughter. One officer held his neck as he was dragged in his chair away from the bedside, the footage shows.
After being forced on to the floor, Mr Abbasi, who suffers from serious heart problems, complained of ‘chest pain’, only to be told: ‘You’ve brought this on yourself.’
The officers are seen claiming that Mr Abbasi kicked and bit them during the struggle. Mr Abbasi denies the claims.
Mr Abbasi told the MoS: ‘The pictures speak for themselves. They behaved like barbarians. They were not prepared to listen. My daughter was given a death sentence half an hour before they arrived.’
Mr Abbasi was taken to accident and emergency, where officers later de-arrested him. He said he was told he had suffered a heart attack and the next day he underwent an emergency angioplasty.
Following the incident, the NHS trust applied to the High Court for permission to take Zainab off the ventilator, but on September 16, just three days before the hearing was due to start, Zainab died.
On Friday Mrs and Mrs Abbasi won a legal battle to partially lift reporting restrictions.
Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre, which is helping the couple, said: ‘The family showed extraordinary restraint in the face of brutal treatment. They genuinely feared that their only daughter was about to die.’
Mr Abbasi was taken to accident and emergency, where officers later de-arrested him. He said he was told he had suffered a heart attack and the next day he underwent an emergency angioplasty
The hospital said: ‘When there is a risk to the safety of any of the patients in our care, to relatives, visitors or to our staff – or interference with the delivery of care and treatment – it is necessary for us to seek help from the police. This is never taken lightly. It is essential we maintain a safe and secure environment, particularly where we are caring for very sick and vulnerable patients.’
The police force involved, which the MoS cannot name for legal reasons, said its officers responded to a call ‘of a man being violent and abusive towards staff and that he had assaulted a consultant’.
They added: ‘While we recognised this was a very distressing time for him and his family, our duty was to ensure the safety of all those present.’ They confirmed Mr Abbasi was arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace and assaulting police officers, and that one officer was treated in A&E. The force added: ‘Due to the nature of the incident, it was necessary to detain the man and when he complained of feeling unwell he was taken for treatment as soon as possible.’
The force said they had reviewed the footage and that it ‘sets out a very different picture to the limited version of events which have been presented to us’.
The police force involved, which the MoS cannot name for legal reasons, said its officers responded to a call ‘of a man being violent and abusive towards staff and that he had assaulted a consultant’
How police ‘brutally’ intruded into a grieving family’s sombre vigil just 30 minutes after the parents were told their daughter, 6, was being taken off her life support machine
Between crisp white hospital sheets lies a little girl in a pink nightdress, a dark bundle of glossy black hair splaying out behind her on a well plumped pillow. Her father is at her side, tenderly stroking her right arm as her mother watches. Just 30 minutes earlier, parents Rashid and Aliya Abbasi had been told the time had come for six-year-old Zainab to die.
Yet within moments their tragic bedside vigil turns into a violent clash with police, who at one point are filmed with their hands around Rashid’s neck. He is dragged away from his dying daughter, in handcuffs and with his legs and ankles strapped together, as a female officer snarls into his face: ‘You’re acting like an animal, it’s disgusting.’
Video footage from a police bodycam shows that the scene when officers arrived at the hospital ward is sombre and calm. Rashid and Aliya appear to be quietly coming to terms with the devastating news that doctors believe their beloved daughter, who has been critically ill in hospital for three weeks, is dying and should be removed from her ventilator.
Video footage from a police bodycam shows that the scene when officers arrived at the hospital ward is sombre and calm. Rashid and Aliya appear to be quietly coming to terms with the devastating news that doctors believe their beloved daughter, who has been critically ill in hospital for three weeks, is dying and should be removed from her ventilator
Rashid is sitting hunched forward in a blue hospital chair beside the bank of machinery keeping Zainab alive. A curtain is drawn back as the couple, who were accompanied by one of their sons, feel no need to seek privacy.
Aliya, towards the foot of the bed, seems too exhausted to be scared – or even surprised –when she sees the police officers, three male and one female, approaching. One of the men asks Rashid: ‘May I have a quick word with you, Sir? Not here, if you could just come outside.’ Rashid replies quietly: ‘No, I don’t want to leave my daughter: my daughter is dying.’
When the PC repeats his request, Aliya starts to explain, believing the officers are unaware of the distressing news which has just been delivered. ‘We have just been told, about half an hour ago, that they are going to take the tube out and our daughter is going to die so, to be honest…’ Her voice tails off as she struggles to articulate her distress.
Aliya invites the officers to sit with them at the bedside, saying: ‘You’re welcome to drag up a chair and just sit here and talk to us.’ The couple show no signs of refusing to co-operate, but they do not wish to leave their child.
Rashid is sitting hunched forward in a blue hospital chair beside the bank of machinery keeping Zainab alive. A curtain is drawn back as the couple, who were accompanied by one of their sons, feel no need to seek privacy
Rashid is told by an officer his behaviour is ‘of some concern’. He responds: ‘This is a lie.’
‘Was Friday a lie as well, about your behaviour, which is why the police were called?’ the officer asks, making the exchange more confrontational, while repeating requests to take the conversation outside.
His colleague, tall with a shaven head, steps past Aliya to take up a position behind Rashid. He appears to repeat a scripted request for co-operation: ‘Is there anything I can reasonably say or do to get you to listen to what I am saying and comply with what I am asking you to do?’
Neither parent has yet raised their voice or stood up. Aliya again tries to explain their desperation: ‘They are going to take the tube out of our daughter, she is going to die… she is on a ventilator’ but her words are cut off by the officer.
A nurse in a navy uniform puts her own hand protectively on Zainab, just inches from where the father is still gently holding his daughter’s arm.
As the police continue to insist the parents leave their daughter’s bedside, Aliya again pleads: ‘My daughter is dying on a ventilator, I don’t think you quite understand…’
The officers again ask Rashid to stand up and come with them, this time raising the spectre of arrest if he doesn’t comply with their request. Aliya then stands up and pleads with a hospital consultant on the ward: ‘Is this what you guys want?’
The nurse, who by this point has been joined by a colleague, then tells Rashid that if he’s arrested, instead of returning to his hospital accommodation he will lose immediate access to his daughter: ‘You’ll not be close to her,’ she says.
Her words are intended as an act of kindness but they seem to encourage a more forceful attitude from the tall male officer who emphasises: ‘There’s accommodation up by Accident and Emergency that’s a lot closer than the police station where he won’t be able to leave, so perhaps you should consider that before making your decision.’
Aliya begs for them both to be allowed to stay, not to waste a moment of their remaining time together. ‘When someone has got hours… we look after her 24 hours, 24 hours a day.’
Aliya begs for them both to be allowed to stay, not to waste a moment of their remaining time together. ‘When someone has got hours… we look after her 24 hours, 24 hours a day’
She appeals to the tall male officer to empathise and feel her grief for a moment. ‘Do you have children?’ she asks. He says he does, but then checks himself and adds: ‘Not that it’s relevant here.’ Now the female officer steps in, telling Aliya what’s best for her dying child. ‘What is best for your daughter is not to have this kind of confrontation around her. She is in the best care, in the best place.’
Aliya responds: ‘She’s not, she’s not.’ But the female officer, clearly disgruntled at being challenged, insists: ‘Yes she is, yes she is,’ jabbing the air in front of her. When Aliya defends herself the female officer begins to lecture her: ‘You’re incorrect. The top and bottom of this is this environment you are putting your daughter in isn’t appropriate… Your husband is creating an issue.’
Aliya pleads for understanding: ‘Were you told that half an hour ago [a doctor] informed us that they were going to take the tube out?’ Her voice, so calm until this point, starts to catch with emotion.
But the female officer says bluntly: ‘Yes but they are not doing it right now!’ prompting the desperate mother to ask: ‘Do you know what compassion is?’
Her appeal gets her nowhere, as the female officer tells her ‘from one mother to another that this is not right’. Aliya says: ‘Do you know what I have to deal with here?’
Now, five and a half minutes into the confrontation, the tall male officer repeats his ‘is there anything I can reasonably say or do…’. script before leaning over Rashid.
He starts to physically remove him, repeating: ‘Leave go of your daughter.’ The officer wearing the bodycam and the female officer grab Aliya from behind and pull her backwards. Pandemonium breaks out. Aliya falls to the floor and screams in shock.
Her terrified cry prompts an anguished bellow from Rashid, who is then dragged backwards from the bed while still sitting in his chair.
Officers wrestle with his flailing arms and one policeman puts his hand on the father’s neck, beneath his chin, his fingers clearly visible against the grey hairs of the older man’s beard. As Rashid is levered away from his daughter’s bed, the command ‘On the floor!’ is clearly given.
Three officers, including the one wearing the bodycam, struggle with Rashid, yelling at him ‘Stop fighting,’ while the female officer and man who appears to be a security guard restrain Aliya. After a fierce struggle, Rashid, panting with exertion and fear, is overpowered and handcuffed.
He complains of chest pains only to be told by the tall male officer: ‘You have brought this on yourself.’
‘We’ll take you to A&E, that’s absolutely fine,’ says the female officer. ‘Please come with us and act responsibly, you’re an adult, you’re an educated person.’
By now Rashid is lying prone on the polished pale grey floor of the ward, his head jammed into the wooden frame of a closed hospital door. He is clearly in physical and mental distress, groaning and grimacing.
Police try to get him to sit up, but he resists, continuing to repeat that he has chest pain and asking for the emergency medication he has in his pocket.
The female officer tells him he cannot have it until he complies with their orders. ‘If you sit up reasonably… we’ll get your medication.’
The officers attempt to sit Rashid, by now handcuffed, on a chair but the scuffle continues as he screams and then accuses one of the male officers of kicking him. With mounting anger the father yells: ‘Why are you are kicking me, you bastard… what are you doing?’ The policeman can be heard denying the accusation.
He slides back on to the floor, telling the officers he is too dizzy to sit up. Distressingly, he repeatedly shouts for his medicine, warning the officers ‘I will have a heart attack!’
The officers then tie him with a double leg restraint, one around his thighs and another at the ankles and then, satisfied that he has been immobilised, lift him on to a waiting trolley. All the time he screams: ‘Let me have my medicine. I’ve got chest pain! I will have a heart attack!
‘You animals. Animals. Animals,’ he says. The female officer believes he is trying to kick her and clearly loses her temper, snarling: ‘You are acting like an animal. It’s disgusting.’
She orders her male colleagues ‘Get him out.’ She then tells Rashid again: ‘Your behaviour in front of your child is disgusting.’
A male officer accuses Rashid of biting him and later appears to show the camera a wound on his hand. Rashid is heard denying the claim.
There are further furious exchanges as Rashid is pushed through double doors out of the ward and out into a corridor and he attempts to grab one of the officers with his cuffed hands. The female officer shouts ‘stop biting’ and Rashid replies ‘I’m not biting.’
He accuses the police of hurting his wrists and repeatedly asks for his medicine. They reassure him that they are taking him to A&E for urgent help but one of the officers appears to tell him: ‘If you act like an animal, you are going to be [treated] like one.’
As he is wheeled into a corridor, the bodycam footage cuts out.
‘Our little girl was dying, all we wanted was some compassion’: Heartbroken parents recall ‘brutal’ moment they were wrenched from their ‘lovely little girl’ who they had fought to keep alive
Zainab Abbasi’s bedroom remains untouched since the heartbreaking day ten months ago when the terribly ill six-year-old girl died in hospital. A Disney poster adorns the door, two birthday cards, both featuring princesses, are still on display and Tigger, her favourite soft toy, sits on a shelf opposite her empty bed.
‘She was the light of our home,’ her grief-stricken mother Aliya told The Mail on Sunday. ‘When she passed away it was like the soul had been taken from our house. All of us were here but the home was empty.’
What made Zainab’s death in September so unbearably painful for Aliya and her husband Rashid, who are both doctors, is that her final weeks were overshadowed by a bitter dispute with medical staff over whether to withdraw life support – so bitter in fact that it culminated in the violent arrest of Rashid and his forced removal from his dying daughter’s bedside.
Pictured: Zainab Abassi who suffered from a life-limiting genetic condition. Both of her parents, Aliya and Rashid are medical doctors
For much of her short life, Zainab was only able to communicate with her father by gently squeezing his hand. Indeed, she was holding one of Rashid’s fingers as a police officer shouted ‘leave go of your daughter’ before dragging him from her.
With tears streaming down his face, Rashid, 59, a respiratory consultant at a different hospital to the one Zainab died in, said he still suffers ‘flashbacks’ of the harrowing incident.
‘As I was being pulled off her bedside she was holding my finger,’ he said. ‘One officer was squeezing my wrist at the same time as they pulled me. I could feel pins and needles.
‘I fell on top of them and then they pulled me down and they were kneeing me on my lower abdomen. It was brutal.’
Aliya, 53, added: ‘It was so unbelievable. I had this feeling that I spoke but nobody could hear me. I kept saying, “You don’t understand, half an hour ago we were told that they are going to take our daughter’s tube out. She is dying.” ’
Born in June 2013, Zainab was Rashid and Aliya’s fourth child – but their first girl. Rashid and Aliya noticed their daughter was missing some key development milestones but believed she was otherwise thriving.
‘She was very cheeky, very bright, a lovely little girl,’ Aliya said. ‘She was a bundle of joy, she really was. From the beginning she was a little fighter. She was a feisty little thing.’
But in January 2016, Zainab contracted swine flu and, after spending weeks on a ventilator, was left with respiratory complications, which she suffered from for the rest of her life. Swine flu has continued to circulate in the UK each winter after the 2009 global pandemic.
Weeks later, Zainab was diagnosed with Niemann-Pick disease, a rare and incurable genetic disease. After this devastating development, which meant she was likely to die before adulthood, Rashid and Aliya increasingly clashed with Zainab’s doctors over her care, particularly the way her respiratory problems were being treated.
Although she lost the ability to speak, Zainab’s parents say she could still communicate by making non-verbal noises and would be in bright spirits despite being seriously ill.
Even when on a ventilator, she would enjoy watching her favourite film, Paddington.
‘And she could respond to music, she would watch her DVDs,’ Aliya said. ‘She loved having her hair washed, brushed and plaited.’
The disagreements between Zainab’s parents and her doctors intensified when she fell dangerously ill last July and was admitted to hospital for the final time. On August 16, Rashid was banned by the hospital from visiting his daughter between 5pm and 9am because it was claimed a junior doctor had felt ‘threatened and intimidated’ by him during a dispute over Zainab’s care.
Doctors Aliya and Rashid Abassi, who had an altercation with hospital staff and police officers, brought about by a dispute over the care of their daughter Zainab. Zainab had a life-limiting condition and died in May 2019
Medical staff later called police when Rashid did visit, but officers calmly handled the situation and he was allowed to stay.
Three days later, Rashid and Aliya met three senior doctors in a room near Zainab’s ward, who told them they wanted to take her off her ventilator, which was providing her lungs with oxygen, and allow her to die ‘in the most caring manner’. Rashid and Aliya disagreed and a heated argument escalated when the doctors attempted to hand Rashid a letter spelling out how his visiting hours would be restricted.
Medical staff claimed Rashid pushed one of the doctors as he stormed out of the meeting. He denies this. ‘My shoulder may have brushed him but then he is the one who ran after me. He first tried to stop me,’ he said.
The couple said they ‘panicked’ because they feared medical staff were taking Zainab off the ventilator while they were in the meeting. ‘It was like being hit with a sledgehammer,’ Aliya said.
Around half an hour later, four police officers and two security guards gathered at Zainab’s bedside, where Rashid, Aliya and one of their sons were sitting calmly.
They repeatedly asked Rashid to move into a different area where they could speak to him, but he did not move. Aliya explained why her husband needed to be there – and asked, ‘Do you know what compassion is?’ But five-and-a-half minutes later chaos broke out as officers attempted to forcibly remove Rashid.
‘I thought they were in parallel, removing Zainab’s tube as well,’ he said. ‘To this day, I wake every night thinking somebody’s tightening my handcuffs and Zainab’s tube is being pulled out.’
As officers forced him to the ground to put handcuffs on him, Rashid, who had previously suffered two heart attacks, felt a crushing pain in his chest. ‘I thought, if I die, what happens to my daughter? I would never see her again and they would almost certainly carry out their threat of removing the tube. I can’t put it in words. I think the heart attack was just a physical manifestation of that distress.’
Aliya breaks down in tears as she remembers how she later asked one of her sons to visit Rashid in Accident and Emergency because she feared he would die.
‘I wanted the children to say goodbye to their father. I thought they might not see him again.’
Rashid and Aliya obtained police camera footage of the incident last December after making a request under the Data Protection Act – but it took them weeks to build up the courage to watch it.
When she did finally view the video, Aliya was struck by the couple’s ‘sheer helplessness’ and the refusal of police to listen to their pleas for understanding.
‘I felt like I was this pathetic middle aged woman pleading with people to listen to her,’ she said.
‘I am having bereavement counselling and I tell my counsellor that this is how I feel now: I feel I speak and people can’t hear me.’
Rashid added: ‘You are speaking to a brick wall. The louder you say things, the louder it bounces back to your face.’
Following the shocking incident, the hospital trust treating Zainab – which did not withdraw her tube during the police incident – applied to the High Court for permission to withdraw life-support treatment and move her to a palliative care regime. A two-day hearing was scheduled for September 19 and 20 but her condition deteriorated, and on September 15, Mr and Mrs Abbasi made a last ditch attempt to save her life. During two emergency telephone hearings with a judge, Rashid and Aliya pleaded for their daughter to be allowed high doses of steroids.
Their request was refused and at 10.08am the following morning Zainab died with her parents and brothers by her bedside.
In a stark sign of how the relationship between the parents and hospital completely broke down after the arrest, two security guards were posted outside the entrance of the ward.
Aliya and Rashid passionately believe their daughter was not terminally ill and that more could have been done to save her. ‘If that episode last year hadn’t happened, we could have carried on looking after her for many, many years,’ Aliya said.
Rashid’s arrest was the last of many flashpoints with clinicians during the final years of Zainab’s life. He was arrested in February 2019 at another hospital after it was claimed he had refused to leave his daughter’s ward and was ‘agitated’. He was later de-arrested due to concerns over his health.
The couple were also investigated by social services and police following allegations that they were ‘obstructing medical access to Zainab’.
This included claims they had changed their daughter’s medication, given her a drug that had not been prescribed and given her too much oxygen at home.
Medical staff later called police when Rashid did visit, but officers calmly handled the situation and he was allowed to stay
The couple have always strenuously denied the claims and say they have evidence which disproves them. The police closed their investigation last year due to ‘insufficient evidence’, while social services concluded that, while there had been safeguarding issues, Zainab was not at ‘continuing risk of significant harm’.
The couple conceded that Rashid can become ‘animated’ but say this was due to the frustrations of their dispute over Zainab’s care.
They denied he was threatening or intimidating.
Aliya warned that other parents, who are less medically qualified than they are face similar battles against doctors determined to withdraw their child’s life support.
‘It’s a bit like if you take your car to a garage and a mechanic insists on a certain course of action. You go with the advice because you don’t know any better.
‘Because we were both doctors we knew exactly what should be happening and we could point out when our daughter was being failed. If this could happen to us, what about other people?
‘On two previous occasions, in 2016 and 2018, Zainab was critically ill in intensive care and doctors suggested it was time to bring her off the ventilator and allow her to die. But because of our medical knowledge, we successfully challenged them and urged them to treat her with higher doses of steroids. On both occasions we were proved right.
‘This happens up and down the country every day because parents don’t know what is happening.’
Rashid, meanwhile, remains tortured by the memory of his violent removal from his daughter’s bedside. ‘Zainab had human rights. She wanted to have the closeness and the company of her parents. What happened to her human rights – the rights of a dying child?’