The Pointlessness of an Internal Investigation

I keep gulping down deep sobs ever since I read Sara Ryan’s latest blog post yesterday. (https://mydaftlife.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/oxon-classy-council/) It is the latest in the catalogue of shameful, deceitful, inhumane behaviour by the Authoritys involved in the death of LB. How can the State treat the people they are paid to serve with such utter contempt?

We had an experience back in 2008 of the sham of the “independent internal investigation”. It is nowhere near on the scale of what Sara’s family are going through but it alerted me to the depths Officialdom will sink to prevent the truth from being revealed.

This is a year before Steven was taken away. One day, with no notice at all, the council stopped the contract with the agency that were supplying Steven’s support workers. We weren’t allowed to be told “why” the contract had been cancelled – it was none of our business. Left without any support until the council found a new agency, Steven had to go to the positive behaviour unit four days a week whilst I was at work. He used to leave about 9am and return home late afternoon. One day, he came home and a couple of hours later we were visited by Whistlers Mother and her manager, both in a grave mood. They informed us that Steven had been assaulted that day in the Unit. He had been kicked three times on his leg and had a cup of coffee thrown over him. They informed us that the council would be starting an immediate investigation but would like Steven to continue to go to the Unit as a new agency had not yet been found. We agreed.

The lie had begun.

The following morning we took a call from the police. They had been called to the “incident” yesterday and the CPS was preparing to press charges. Then the bombshell. The assault had been carried out by a member of staff. We, led by the lack of information from the social worker, had assumed it had been another service user. Later, when Steven came home, I asked him and he confirmed that it was a member of the staff that he was very fond of. It seems that the incident was reported by two agency staff who were working that day. The assailant and the shift leader had tried to cover it. All the blame went onto Steven.

I phoned the Unit and they confirmed what I had been told. I phoned the social worker to remonstrate that we hadn’t been told the truth but all I got was some flimflam about “confidentiality” and “internal processes”. She confirmed that the internal investigation had already begun.

That was the last we ever heard about the internal investigation. Whoever led the investigation never spoke to Steven. He/she never spoke to us. We were told that under no circumstances were we to discuss the incident or investigation with any of the staff at the Unit. I guess at some point, the investigator reported his/her findings. We never got to see them, despite several requests. I had the thought at the time that the internal investigation was another lie – perhaps there wasn’t one. Whatever happened to the investigation, the needs/image of “the service” counted for everything and Steven, his family, even the innocent staff, counted for sod all.

Fortunately, we did discover what happened and the outcome because a greater authority than the council took matters further. The CPS did prosecute and I went to court for the one day trial. The judge was told who I was sitting at the back of the court and it felt like she was addressing most of her comments to me. The assailant’s evidence was a joke and he tried to paint himself as the victim and Steven as a dangerous predator. The Shift Leader turned up late, cockily swanned into court and was ripped to shreds by the judge. The two agency workers coped brilliantly under the most awful intimidation. One of the agency workers was still working in the Unit when Steven was there 18 months later. He confided in one of Steven’s regular workers that his life was made hell during those months between the assault and the trial, from all quarters (Say no more). Neither the social worker, nor any senior staff from the Unit attended the trial. It was like it had nothing to do with Hillingdon at all. He was found guilty of assault. I missed the sentencing hearing, so never found out what happened.

But the point is, if it had been left to the council to investigate their dirty linen, nothing whatsoever would have happened.

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Balancing The Books

If you’re sitting comfortably with Gemima, Little Ted, Big Ted and Hamble, we’re going to look through one of Mark Neary’s inner windows. Today, let’s look through the paranoid window.

I’ve just posted my second attempt at completing this year’s financial report for the Office of the Public Guardian. Don’t ask about the first attempt. I made such a pigs ear of it, it was returned with a whole page of clarifying questions. As soon as I open the envelope, I panic and that mood persists until I get the all clear.

I picture the OPG like some austere maiden aunt. One who is excellent at darning old socks. One who is a dab hand at making gorgeous stews out of yesterday’s leftovers. And this maiden aunt tuts a lot. She disapproves if I help myself to an extra custard cream. And she doesn’t think I wash behind my ears often enough.

Of course, in reality, the OPG is nothing like this. Whenever I’ve spoken to them on the phone, they have been very human and very helpful. When the Visitor paid a call last year, she was great – very straightforward and supportive. So, why have I turned them into a corsetted Great Aunt Gertrude.

I know where it comes from. I never used to be unnecessarily fearful of authority figures. But over the past few years, I find myself quaking in my brogues. I suspect that I project my experiences with Hillingdon’s direct payment manager onto every other authority encounter. She terrifies me – “MR NEARY. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES CAN YOU USE YOUR DAILY ALLOCATION TO FUND AN EMERGENCY NIGHT SHIFT. YOU MUST SEEK MY PERMISSION FIRST. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?” When she barks at me, I become 8 years old again and have just been told off for wasting my pocket money on 5 back copies of Whizzer & Chips.

It’s not a good idea to give a financial and property deputyship annual report to an 8 year old to complete. If I can’t account or explain every last penny of money I’ve spent on Steven, will I be sent to my room?

Here are some of the fantasy chastisements I’ve conjured up over the weekend:

“Two new tellys this year Mr Neary?” “Well, Steven is autistic and TVs are fragile. QED?”

“£140 to replace the support worker’s spectacles?” I then launch into a robust defense of a messy meltdown over a missing Proclaimers CD, as if I’m in the witness box at the High Court.

The one piece of expenditure that has caused the biggest anxiety this year, goes like this:

“I see, in column 6 Mr Neary, you spent £45 on a life size Mr Bean cardboard cutout. I can see the offending item, looming in the corner of the living room. Explain yourself boy. And in the meantime, I am going to boil your goolies in brine and send you to an assessment and treatment unit, until you take your responsibilities more seriously”.

At this point, I choke on my sherbert dip and wet myself.

Flashbacks By Pam

I thought I’d better write this post to check I’m still alive. Earlier, I spent an hour watching my life flash before my eyes (Well, the last five years anyway) and it grew increasingly alarming.

I finished work at 3pm and as its a respite evening, the rest of the day was mine. To be honest, the money from Hillingdon has been burning a hole in my pocket. So, I popped into Uxbridge. I don’t go to Uxbridge much since we became Cowley men. The last few years there were pretty horrid and as a fully qualified, accredited counsellor, I tend to work to the principle that its better to run away from your issues rather than face them head on.

I didn’t know what I wanted to treat myself to. Nothing rash. Nothing extravagant. An emergency summer anorak? An onyx wall mounted Brillo grip? I even found myself standing outside Hair By Pam, noting that Pam is doing a special offer in a full threading. The only thing that stopped me picking up this bargain is that I have absolutely no idea what a full threading is. Perhaps, I could ask for a partial threading? In the end, I brought a book and a Hi De Hi boxed set. I didn’t even break into the arrears money as I had a birthday gift voucher from my sister.

Then, my legs took me to the Slug and Lettuce. I haven’t been there since we moved. I used to go there every Monday when we lived in the flat. They do half price food on a Monday. Before respite, I would fly out of the flat an hour before the support worker clocked off and have a steak, chips and a flat mushroom. One hour per week was all I got for 2 years whilst Hillingdon argued Steven could go the Unit once a week, so I got a break.

The other reason I don’t go back to the Slug is that it is directly opposite the Civic Center. A bit too painful. But today, as a fully qualified, accredited counsellor, I decided to take the bull by the horns and bury that ghost.

As I sat there eating my Italian salmon, buttery mash and roasted Mediterranean vegetables (does moving to Cowley change your palette?), an entire Greek Chorus from the last five years, danced across the Civic concourse in a farewell dance.

First out was the housing benefit manager, rushing to catch his train. Next, came the senior manager of the positive behavior support team. This is the guy that Justice Peter Jackson quoted as saying, “we are acting legally on everyone’s behalf”. Then came the directs payment manager, dragging herself away from her surveillance of everyone’s personal budget. Then their head of press communications (it was only yesterday, I was writing about her press release). By now, I am completely spooked but very inwardly calm at the same time. I paid my bill. As I was putting on my coat, who should be coming down the steps……you guessed it…..Whistler’s Mother. That was it. I left hurriedly, without leaving a tip. I’d seen her before in the Slug and knew that today was not the day for our karmic encounter.

Coming home on the bus, I kept asking – ” what the fuck was that all about?” Earlier my friend had joked that there must be a note on the front of my file that says, “JUST DON’T GO THERE”. Things are okay now. Steven’s current social worker is great – dead straightforward. She gets Steven. Think she even gets me too. That is everyone we now have to deal with.

The End…………..perhaps.

Herds of Cowley Men Sweeping Majestically Over The Cliff

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We’re having a holiday experiment this year.

Steven has always loved a caravan holiday. In the past, his requirements for a holiday have been pretty minimal. There must be a swimming pool. We need to be fairly close to a leisure park so he can go on all the rides. There needs to be a café where he can have sausage and bacon for breakfast. And he likes somewhere where there is a show to go and watch in the evening.

But over the past couple of years, those needs have changed. The pool is still a must. So is the bacon. But he’s less interested in the leisure parks. Last year I paid £25 each for four of us to enter the Fun Park and after one ride on the ghost train and a quick plunge down the log flume, Steven had had enough. Similarly, the evening show no longer appeals and the crowds that gather there are always likely to trigger off a meltdown. He’s been content to take a selection of DVDs with him and watch them in the caravan in the evening.

So, this year I thought we’d do something different. Let’s get a holiday cottage. And once that idea had taken seed, another idea came in. Every year, I have to make a choice over which two support workers accompany us on holiday. It’s horrible because the ones that stay behind are always disappointed. This year, as I made some money from the sale of the house, I had the sudden idea that we should take all the support team with us. A way of saying thank you for all their hard work during the year and getting me off the hook of having to chose two of them. They were over the moon when I asked them. Although, they will be working for much of the week, there will also be plenty of time off as well. Steven thinks the idea is brilliant! I think it is going to be fascinating – it’ll be like the Big Brother house. I can’t wait to see who is going to take charge.

I found the above cottage, which has an inside pool, an outside spa pool and a room outside that is very much like our own private pub. It has a bar, a pool table, even a jukebox. Steven has struggled to get his head around this – “No more people in the swimming pool? Just Steven Neary and Mark Neary and his friends?” But what has really sealed this for Steven is that it is in Torquay. Home of Basil and Sybil. Steven looked at the photo on the right above and announced: “You can see the sea – it’s over there between the land and the sky”. Every plan he makes has a Fawlty Towers reference. He wants a cheese salad (Like Mr Hutchinson). When I showed him the picture of our pub, he said we could have: “A gin and orange, a lemon squash and a scotch and water please”.

One of the support workers is going to be our driver and we’re hiring a minibus for the week, so if Steven does decide he wants a trip on the ghost train, we can venture off the “cliff edge cottage”. We will go out on a boat. We will go on the land train. Steven didn’t seem that impressed when I showed him the cable car until I told him it was in Babbacombe – “Driving over to Babbacombe? Like Mr Carnegie?”

So, if you’re in the area in June and you pass a minbus with seven Cowley men singing Walking on Sunshine at the tops of their voices, give us a wave. Or pop in for some breakfast kippers (like Mr Lemon).

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One Final Spin

This is a promise. After 14 blog posts on the subject since September 2012, I hereby promise that this is the last post I’ll ever write about my housing benefit battle. One last thing to get off my chest and you’ll never hear from me on the subject again.

Actually, the core of this post is about “spin”, triggered by the conclusion of the HB saga. On Thursday, I received wads of paperwork from the council detailing how they have worked out the reinstated benefit. I missed it first time but there is a recalculation sheet from 4th June 2012, four months before they stopped the HB. This is where the spin comes in.Hillingdon were interviewed by the BBC, The Guardian, The Times & the Uxbridge Gazette at the time and gave pretty much the same statement to all of them – ” Mr Neary notified us of a change in his personal circumstances, which led to the decision to terminate his claim”. The inference is that I instigated the change. Worse, they linked one change as an excuse for their big decision. As I said repeatedly at the time, the change I told them about was that from June 2012, my income had reduced because I was having to pay higher room hire charges for my counselling practice. Nothing at all to do with the reason why they stopped my claim – they believed I should sell my share of the house that my unwell wife was living in. This is classic spin. Putting two unrelated facts together to disguise a darker truth. Southern Health are experts at this dark art.

So it was a surprise reading their latest letter, to see that not only have they had to reinstate the HB for the entire year that they stopped it, they’ve had to pay me arrears going back to the June when I told them about the change. Their spin came back to bite them on the arse.

Having to deal with spin by the organization that is causing you so much pain is horrid. It is hard to hang on to your truth. Even though you know that the spin is a sign of desperation, the power imbalance is so wide, you are knocked for six by the spin. Think of any press report about a battle between an individual and officialdom – the official statement always appears at the end of the article. The spin has the last word. Back in 2010, Hillingdon’s statement, to justify why they kept Steven in the ATU,  was always: “Mr Neary was unable to cope with caring for his son”. No mention that I was only not coping for a few days because I was ill. I won’t even revisit their evil press release where they painted such a despicable picture of Steven. I remember Jerome Taylor from the Independent showing me the press release outside the Royal Courts of Justice and how I nearly threw up all over the pavement. That’s what spin at its worst does to you – it rips your guts out.

The happy ending to the housing benefit saga is that I am now in a position where i will no longer need HB. The money Hillingdon have just had to pay out will cover the cost of the support workers’ wages and the cost of a minibus hire for our holiday in the summer. There is some sort of rough justice in that.

Soundtrack To A Birth

A few years ago for Steven’s birthday, I did a compilation tape of songs that had been at number one on his birthday. Every year, he makes me do the same tape and he listens to itit on the day before his birthday.

He’s playing it now and the annual narrative has completely floored his support worker. Steven is especially keen on the song from his actual birth date – Dub Be Good To Me by Beats International. The commentary is the same every year:

“Here comes Steven Neary.

Steven Neary is not a seed anymore.

Steven Neary is coming out of mummy’s fanny.

Mummy is shouting and holding daddy’s hand.

Steven Neary is in the world now.

Nice to meet you Steven Neary.

Hello Norman Cook”.

The 50s

I’ll be 56 next week. Birthdays are not normally a big deal to me but I keep finding myself reflecting on what this decade in my life has all been about. Not having been 56 before, I can’t work out if the way I feel is the consequence of the last six years or whether its just being 56. For one I’m slower. I notice a bench as I walk down the road and think “Ooh, that looks inviting. I might have a little sit for a few minutes”. But I don’t. Mostly though, its about my mental state and noticing that my reaction to stuff is very different to pre 50s.

I remember my 50th. I was due to start some major dental work the following day, so went out for a slap up meal in case I couldn’t eat properly for weeks. The next day, and seven teeth lighter, Steven’s social worker phoned me and set in train her plan that 4 months later saw Steven and I have to move out of the family home. As Steven’s and my birthday are only five days apart, my 6th decade coincided with his transition into adult social care. That changed everything.

So, my 50s started with my marriage ending through State intervention and has continued with Hillingdon ” erring” in law twice. Later that year, they unlawfully took Steven away from his home for a year. Two years later, they lost Steven (and me) our home with their error with our housing benefit. Ironically, as I’m so involved in #LBBill but my 50s have been characterized by the sheer vulnerability of my home. My concept of “my home” has been perilously fragile for the past six years.

All this has left me with a great fear of officialdom getting it wrong. Worse – I freeze and become ludicrously incongruent. Yesterday, the OPG returned my annual deputy report as they thought I’d got some figures wrong. I went into panic. What will they do? How will they judge me? What will I lose? Luckily, a friend slapped me round the face and said, “They’re not Hillingdon. You don’t have to fear them”. And she was right. I need to work on that. I think I’ll always be wary of Hillingdon but I don’t need to project that onto everyone else.

I don’t remember such fear, distrust and anger pre 50s. I know its understandable but its going to stop. Its not useful and is incredibly energy sapping. I’m trying to focus on the favours Hillingdon did me. I’ve got a whole new career of writing and public speaking. I’m not always comfortable with it but its an adventure and I like adventures.

The other week I did have a little sit down on a bench. By the lock, along the towpath of my new flat. I watched how turning a handle had such a dramatic effect on the water levels. I know changing our emotional levels can be harder than turning a handle but it doesn’t have to be. That’s all I’m trying to do.