Hillingdon Council acted illegally by detaining a man with learning disabilities in a residential home against his and his family’s wishes, a High Court judge has ruled.

The judge found that Hillingdon Council deprived Steven of his liberty and was in breach of his human rights between January and December 2010. The case centred on Hillingdon Council’s decision not to allow Steven to return home following a brief period of respite care – despite his father Mark Neary’s belief that home was the best place for him.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said that Hillingdon Council had no lawful basis for keeping Steven away from his home. “The fact that it [Hillingdon Council] believed that it was acting for the best during that year is neither here nor there,” he said. “It acted as if it had the right to make decisions about Steven, and by a combination of turning a deaf ear and force majeure, it tried to wear down Mr Neary’s resistance, stretching its relationship with him almost to breaking point. It relied upon him coming to see things its way, even though, as events have proved, he was right and it was wrong. In the meantime, it failed to activate the statutory safeguards that exist to prevent situations like this arising.”

Until Christmas 2009, Steven, who has severe learning disabilities and requires supervision at all times, had lived with his father. Until December 2009, his care was provided by his father and a team of council-funded carers. This ended at Christmas 2009, when his father who at the time was “unwell and exhausted” agreed that his son would temporarily go to a positive behaviour unit and return a couple of weeks later.

However, Hillingdon Council said care staff had concerns about Steven’s challenging behaviour and weight, and argued that the move should be for a longer period. As a result, he ended up staying at the unit for about a year. However, his father had not consented to this move and the judge said that the authorisations the council relied on were flawed. Although critical of Hillingdon Council, the judge added that he was satisfied that everybody concerned genuinely wanted to do the right thing by Steven at all times, and that a lot of hard work was done to achieve this. “The problems arose from misjudgement, not from lack of commitment.”

Steven returned home to his father at Christmas 2010, as a result of a court order made by Mr Justice Mostyn, and has remained there ever since. The judge noted that things have gone well and it is agreed that Steven will remain at home with high levels of support. Support plans are currently being finalised. Responding to the decision, Linda Sanders, director of social care at Hillingdon Council, said: “I would like to apologise to Steven and his father. “It is clear that there have been times when we have let both of them down. “Cases such as Steven’s are hugely complex and we always have to carefully balance what we think is right for an individual with the wider issues such as the safety of the public.”

Sanders added that the council has already implemented changes relevant to the case is reviewing its training for staff who deal with the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty safeguards.