A mother who took her local authority to court over the treatment of her autistic son, who was locked in a padded room several times a day – during a previous placement organised by the council – says he has made “remarkable” progress in the 9 months since she won the case.
The mother of the young man, known only as C, made these comments after a judge lifted an anonymity order preventing Wigan Borough Council being named as the local authority concerned in the Court of Protection case.
In the case Mr Justice Ryder ruled that it was wrong to lock the 19-year-old young man in the so-called ‘Blue Room’ – a padded room at Beech Tree School, a residential school he attended – more than 6 times a day to control his behaviour, without seeking a court order to deprive him of his liberty. The family of the boy contacted law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hogans Solicitors after becoming concerned over his treatment at Beech Tree School and having repeated pleas ignored by officials.
The case culminated in the ruling that the council’s treatment was unlawful. C’s mother said: “This entire period has been extremely traumatic for my sons and I and it’s with a feeling of immense joy and relief that we feel C can now begin to lead the fulfilling and enjoyable life he should have done previously. “It is a sad situation that the very people we should have been working in cooperation with in order to provide the best care for him are the ones that let us down and failed to meet their minimum duty of care to him. The ‘professionals’ within the named organisations each had the authority to halt the tragic existence of my sons’ incarceration within the Blue Room but failed in their duty to do so over a considerable period of time. “His elder brother and I have witnessed the practice of seclusion enough to know that it is unnatural, particularly cruel to someone with the diagnosis of C and serves only to dehumanise and there should be no place for its use in 21st century ‘care’. “I just hope that others in an extremely vulnerable position may be spared the harm that he was forced to endure and we were forced to witness prior to the judgment."
Mathieu Culverhouse, a specialist in cases related to the human rights of vulnerable people at Irwin Mitchell, helped the family win the case, said: “This shocking case is one in which the responsible authorities failed to obtain the legal authorisation needed to deprive someone of their liberty. “It’s clear from the progress C has made over the past 9 months that the unlawful treatment he was receiving was not working. Thankfully now, C is beginning to move on from his ordeal and the family can enjoy time with him."
C’s brother added: “He has gained weight, grown taller and shows affection to those around him. I can now enjoy a relationship with him where we laugh and have fun, which is something I hadn’t seen my brother do for some time. It is however ironic and rather perturbing to think my brother now has greater liberty and quality of life under the restrictions of the MHA [Mental Health Act], than he did in a school setting. Even now, we have not received an apology from those responsible.”
The British Institute for Learning Disabilty’s (BILD) development manager for behaviour support, Sharon Paley, acted as an expert witness to the Court of Protection in this case and said: “BILD has been highlighting the issues related to the unlawful seclusion of people with learning disabilities, particularly children and young people, for five years now. This case highlights that these practices still continue, and should be a warning across the care sector and particularly in education, that where unlawful strategies are used they will be robustly challenged.”
In response, Wigan Council’s director of specialist and targeted services, Anne Goldsmith, said: "We are delighted that this young man is making progress as this was always our aim. We took expert advice on the how best to care for this young man and tried to secure the best provider for him. The package of care at his residential school was implemented with the approval of the Court and by his family. “The Council has agreed a sum of compensation to this young man to reflect the concerns expressed in these proceedings. The Council has also supported the family in accessing his present provider of care. “In light of this case we have reviewed all of our processes to ensure they meet with new legal requirements."