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Magna Carta: An extract from “Get Steven Home”

November 4, 2012

Magna Carta

Thursday 9th June 2011 will probably be the defining day of my life. All the pain and determination of the previous eighteen months came together on that day as we returned to the Royal Courts of Justice to hear Justice Peter Jackson hand down his judgement. The vibes were positive but I still didn’t really appreciate the enormity of the judgement or the impact it would have; I had been so immersed in the whirlpool, I had seldom come up for air and to observe our case from and objective position.

I’ve added the judgement in full as an annex but not to beat about the bush, the judge found that:

  • Hillingdon unlawfully breached Steven’s right to respect for family life, contrary to Article 8 ECHR,
  • Hillingdon unlawfully deprived Steven of his liberty, contrary to Article 5 ECHR,
  • Hillingdon deprived Steven of his entitlement to take proceedings for a speedy decision by a court on the lawfulness of his detention, contrary to Article 5(4) ECHR,
  • Hillingdon deprived Steven of his liberty, without lawful authority under Schedule A1 MCA.

In his opening statements of the judgement, the judge even quoted Magna Carta!: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold or liberties, or free customs, or outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land”.

As he read this piece out, I was hit by a tsunami. It wasn’t the content as such but I was overwhelmed by the timeline. All my history and ancestry from 1297 to 9th June 2011 suddenly came out of nowhere and I felt a huge sob emerging from some deep tardis inside my soul. I think other people felt it too. I glanced across to the press box and they were all sitting bolt upright as if they’d been profoundly goosed. It is very trippy and astonishingly moving to travel through eight centuries in the space of three minutes.

The judge praised me in the judgement: “I want to thank Mr Neary for the quiet way in which he has presented his case. Mr Mark Neary is an unusual man and he can be proud of the way in which he has stood up for his son’s interests.” And later he states, “Hillingdon’s approach might have succeeded, with a lesser parent than Mr Neary giving up in the face of such official determination. Had that happened, Steven would have faced a life in public care that he did not want and does not need”. I am proud of that and I’m also proud of the many times during the judgement, where the judge, faced with my reality of events versus Hillingdon’s versions, always chose to believe my reality.

If I was praised in the judgement; Hillingdon were damned. I’ve read the judgement back many times and everytime, the duplicity and manipulation of Hillingdon chills me. I’m not trying to rub Hillingdon’s nose in it but having written this book purely from my perspective, I think it is important to show the judge’s view of events that I’ve described in previous chapters:

“Hillingdon 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. It relied upon him coming to see things its way, even though, as events have proved, he was right and it was wrong”.

“Far from being a safeguard, the way in which the DoL process was used masked the real deprivation of liberty, which was the refusal to allow Steven to go home”.

“At various stages during the hearing, I asked Hillingdon witnesses to explain who was answerable for various actions, but no-one could say”.

“By 4th January 2010, there were the first signs of the seeds of later difficulties. A letter from the social worker to the manager refers to a longer stay. For some reason, she asked for this plan to be kept confidential”. (This was after Steven had been away for just 5 days!)

“By 15th January, it can be seen that Hillingdon had by now decided that it would not let Steven go home, but had not revealed this to Mr Neary. Its approach was rather to manage his opposition”.

In relation to the “There is always going to something or other with Mr Neary” email from the social worker on 22nd February, the judge states: “Mr Neary had done nothing to deserve this disrespect. The unfortunate tone of the message demonstrates that even at this stage the expression ‘working together’ did not include working together with Steven’s father in the true sense and that Hillingdon’s thinking had become adversarial. Worse, the professional view was withheld from Mr Neary. In the meantime, a ‘transition plan’, ostensibly leading towards a return home was put in place”.

“On 16th April a professionals meeting was held. The meeting agreed that Steven could not go home and that Mr Neary should not be informed while Hillingdon took legal advice”.

In relation to the social worker’s and the manager’s referrals to a psychiatrist; “These letters hardly provided a neutral summary of events as a basis for professional advice”.

On 24th April, “Unaware that Hillingdon’s policy was to keep him in the dark, Mr Neary persisted”.

In relation to the DoL challenge on 30th April; “It is disappointing that the meeting did not reach the obvious decision that an urgent application to the court should be made. There is no hindsight needed – it can be seen from the various messages in the preceding week that everybody was by now aware that this was the proper course”.

On 26th May; “It would seem that the social worker’s discomfort was alleviated by giving Mr Neary a glimpse, but not a full view of Hillingdon’s thinking. Unfortunately the letter reverts to the misconception that the decision lay in the hands of the local authority”.

On 9th July, “I am afraid that the offer of a case conference was window dressing”.

In relation to the psychologist’s report of 16th August; “It is deplorable that this report was deliberately withheld from Mr Neary for at least six weeks”.

“Hillingdon’s approach was calculated to prevent proper scrutiny of the situation it had created”.

“Between April and July 2010, Hillingdon pursued two inconsistent agendas. It was only when the transition plan was about to lead to an actual return home that the pursuit of two agendas became unfeasible and the true view of the professionals was disclosed.”

That is 15 references within the judgement to deliberate deception. In a way, because Hillingdon’s approach was so adversarial from day one, it is easy to fall into the trap that I was the one being deceived as I was its adversary. But the thing I cannot forgive them for is that they were primarily deceiving Steven all this time as well. To constantly set him up with false hope and then take it away is an awful abuse of power over a vulnerable young man in their care. If the boot had been on the other foot and it had been me psychologically abusing him in such a way, I am in no doubt that the matter would have come under a safeguarding adult’s investigation. Who safeguards the vulnerable people from the supposed professional safeguarders?

Whilst all of the above deceits are abhorrent and unethical, they don’t necessarily prove that Hillingdon acted illegally. Their actions were morally criminal but not legally criminal. To prove that, the judge took apart the deprivation of liberty orders. I could come up with as many quotes as I have above to demonstrate how the judge made the declaration that the DoL’s were unlawful but basically, he found the all four DoLs were not fit for purpose. They didn’t record Steven’s wishes; they didn’t record my views. They didn’t satisfy any reasonable best interests criteria. They didn’t consider whether the deprivation was the least restrictive option. They never named or dealt with the elephant in the room, namely, that being held in the positive behaviour unit was the actual deprivation of liberty. The orders were effectively just rubber stamped and no scrutiny was applied to the authorisations. There was the failure to appoint an IMCA. There was the failure to conduct an effective review of each Dol. And there was the failure to bring the matter before the court. Added up, they constituted a criminal act!

One final point about the judgement is that the judge addressed the matter of Hillingdon’s disgusting press release: “It is a sorry document, full of contentious and inaccurate information and creating a particularly unfair and negative picture of Steven”. How low could they stoop and showed once and for all that the repeated protestations that they were always acting in Steven’s best interests were, quite frankly, bollocks. I am glad that most of the press and bloggers picked up on this and rightly shamed Hillingdon for its shameful act. Nothing could have backfired on them so spectacularly.

The judgement was handed down (I didn’t realise the formality was as literal as that) and the judge retired. There were lots of handshakes and hugs and I felt bad that I was too emotional to find the words to fully convey my deepest gratitude to the official solicitor and barrister. They literally saved Steven’s life. And suddenly from the sedate, formal theatre of the courtroom, I was hurtled into the less sedate world of the media!

On the steps of the court, there were television cameras rolling; cameras clicking and microphones being thrust at me. The journalists who had been there from the start; Jerome, Billy, Brian, Andy and Rachel were there, so although emotional, it felt pretty easy. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman approaching into camera shot. It turned out to be Linda Saunders, the director of adult social care at Hillingdon. She took my hand and manoeuvred me around to face the ITN camera and said something that I didn’t catch a word of. Later I was told that it was the official apology. And then she was off again, as suddenly as she’d appeared. One of the journalists whispered to me; “she tried to do you up like a kipper there” but I wasn’t bothered.

I was then whisked off by ITN to a side street for a quick interview and when I got back to court, my dear friend, Kurt Bahling from the BBC was waiting patiently on the steps. We went to a park by the Embankment and on camera, the bastard made me cry. He brought up the judge’s testimonial of me and that completely set me off. And I suppose after the high drama of the past three hours, I found it moving to be sitting in a tranquil park with a man whose faith in me had never wavered since the first day we met. We bade each other farewell as Kurt wanted to file his report for the lunchtime news and I was taken to the BBC studios within the court to talk to Victoria Darbyshire at Radio Five Live. I don’t think I made an awful lot of sense because my head was swimming but I felt at ease, because like Kurt, Victoria had followed our story from the beginning and had played a part in the outcome we had just achieved.

Returning home on the tube, I read the full judgement and I found it very chastening to see the whole nightmare described and judged upon in 202 paragraphs. I am in awe of how the judge got all the key moments and was able to acutely understand how the nightmare evolved. I also felt vindicated by the judgement. Throughout the whole year, I never moved from my belief of what was right for Steven, but it was a lonely journey, especially when faced with the Hillingdon army steadfastly presenting me with such a false reality. To read the judge acknowledge and validate my reality of the truth was incredibly heartening.

I didn’t get a chance to see all the news reports because Steven was in a Take That mood, which was probably the perfect antidote to such a full on day. After he went to bed, I spent the night reading all the messages I’d been sent and once again, the impact of the judgement hit me as I was receiving messages from complete strangers telling me how much the judgement will affect their lives. It was also humbling to read from people that my courage had given them the courage to fight similar battles. One man, whose daughter had been trapped in a care home for three years, told me that he’d downloaded the full judgement and on the strength of the judge’s statement that a local authority do not have the power to make a decision about residency and where there is a dispute over residency it must be brought before the court, he had decided to apply to the court of protection the following morning. Since the judgement, I’ve had dozens of online conversations with people given renewed heart that they can challenge unjust decisions about their children’s care.

The next day I set off early for Sainsburys. I picked up all the papers and put them in the trolley and it wasn’t until I was by the fresh veg that I saw Jerome and Andy’s piece on the front page of the Independent. The headline was: “The Right to Love”. I broke down in tears with terrible consequences; I forgot to buy Steven’s bag of carrot batons. We got an excellent press; the writers all understood me and they showed an empathy and understanding of Steven and his autism that Hillingdon never got. Later that day, I did interviews with the Uxbridge Gazette, the incredible Heather Mills at Private Eye; The Daily Mail (“The State Stole My Son!”) and Gaby Roslin’s breakfast show (Steven was so disappointed by this because he thought she still worked with Chris Evans). Anna Raccoon wrote another excellent blog which attracted some stirring comments. I was also invited on to a phone in on Radio Four’s “You and Yours” programme. It showed me how much I’d learned so quickly; when I gave them an interview in August 2010, they had to pre-record it as I was so nervous. Now, less than a year later, I was doing a live phone in! A few weeks beforehand, Panorama had exposed the appalling abuse taking place in Bristol in a care home for adults with learning difficulties. During the phone in, a mother of one of the residents called in and Julian Warricker, the presenter, got me and her to talk to each other. It was very moving and afterwards the producer told me that our brief exchange had made the programme.

During the week after the judgement, I committed the unforgivable sin of googling myself. I wanted to see how our case was being discussed and there were some fascinating articles written within the legal world and the social care field. Again, it showed me that our long fight is going to help so many people in the future. The judgement had been launched into the atmosphere and the strange thing is that I will never know where it will land and who it will help.

The judge’s reference to Magna Carta seems to have resonated with so many people. Lots of commentators have picked up on it and the general view is that it is both awesome and reassuring to know that such an ancient law can have a relevance in 2011. Magna Carta has also impacted on Steven as well. We used to have neighbours called Mr & Mrs Carter and one night after Steven heard me discussing 1297 with one of the support workers, he asked me: “Dad, Magna Carta is Mrs Carter’s sister?”

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From → Social Care

One Comment
  1. Yasmin permalink

    Hello Mark,

    Have spent the last five hours trying to write my sons experience on your blog.and twice it has been wiped.

    So I will keep it simple.

    My sons plight is on going and I am once again in despair mode at the injustice of what has happened to him and continues to happen.

    Yes my sons rights have so been violated thats why I find courage and strength to keep going.

    Your experience is now my experience.

    Thank you for sharing….. Thank you for educating. and Thank you for your voice.

    As good educational skills are needed to Challenge The Local Authorities….. with all these legislations in place i.e. The Mental Capacity Act The Deprivation of Liberty and Safeguarding and The Court of Protection one needs a Masters Degree to consume all this knowledge.

    My heartfelt concerns for the ones who suffer in silence and except the fate for of their loved ones
    because of fear. Local Authorities rely on those who lack the educational skills to challenge thus enabling them to abuse their powers……..

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