I’ve been wanting to write something for Justice For LB #107days Take Two. It is hard to top the amazingness of last year but the Justice Shed are really going for it. It has clearly been a very hard week in the Justice Shed. The almost permanently silent Oxon CC launched a missile of deadly, cuntish magnitude. It is hard to survive an attack like that. In the past year, I’ve met Sara and Rich several times and each time have been in awe of their courage, dignity and fantastic humour. If anyone can get justice to roll down like waters, it is these two.
My language already gives away the theme of this post. It’s about the battles families find themselves in when something horrendous happens to them or their loved ones. I don’t like war like language – I find it nearly always overblown but it does seem apt in light of the perpetual drip, drip, drip of social care horror stories. To quote Basil – “who started the war”? I don’t think it is hardly ever the families. All they are interested in is the truth, peace and resolution. No, it seems to me that the adversarial stance is nearly always adopted by the State, usually for no other reason that to protect their name or their reputation. Truth, candour, transparency counts for nought in this arena.
So, what is the arsenal that families can expect once the battle lines are drawn:
1. Money. Public money seems to be endless when there are reputations at stake. Whether it be employing expensive legal teams for events like an inquest, (in my case) representation at a housing benefit appeal, or using the services of image consultants who can spin their way out of anything or coach staff with meticulously crafted scripts before they have to deliver their story in public, the purse is forever open. Compare that to families unable to obtain funding for legal representation at an inquest or the savage cuts to legal aid and the ground is desperately uneven from the starting gun.
2. Defamation. Remember the attack on Kay Sheldon when she was having her problems with her employers, the CQC. Horrible statements questioning her mental health state started circulating. Southern Health & Oxon CC have tried to do similar with Sara Ryan. Hints of instability. Or, the person who the case is about comes under attack. I remember in the Unit Manager’s witness statement for court, he wrote about the police being called on a day Steven was out shopping. Completely absent from his story was that three drunks started hassling Steven and the support workers, one of whom phoned his manager and she called the police – for Steven’s protection. But the report implied that it was Steven who was the danger and needed police intervention. Likewise every statement Hillingdon put out after the case, the intent was always the same – “We have to seek to balance Steven’s best interests with the wider issue of the public’s safety”.
3. Beliefs. This one is so hard to fight against. In the social worker’s manager’s witness statement, on four occasions, he backed up his plans with a statement that began, “I believe”. For example, part of their case was based on “I believe Mr Neary will not continue with behaviour management plans”. How can you argue with a belief? For that matter, how can you build a sodding case on a belief? But it happens all the time.
4. Become The Victim: Who can forget KP’s infamous statement about being “a mother and a CEO”. It definatley wrong foots when you are grieving to hear the perpetrator announce that they are suffering as much as you. Or like in our case, when the social worker received an (unseen and unreported) anonymous letter which distressed her so much, she was unable to give evidence at the hearing. But never fear, her manager made sure the Judge heard about it within the first five minutes of giving his evidence.
5. Overpower By Numbers: As well as money, the State can always throw large numbers of people when in the midst of battle. I’ve never attended a meeting where there has been less than three of them and one of me. In the heat of 2010, there was normally me against at least 8 professionals. It is incredibly intimidating but I guess that is the point.
6. Silence. Silence is a killer tactic. You write. You phone. You speak publically. But nobody responds at all. And this can go on for months and months, often years. It also leads to a secondary problem as there always be someone who comes out with the nutmeg: “Ah yes. But we’re only hearing one side of the story”. Immediate denigration of the person’s experience. I heard it so many times in 2010 but how many sides do you need when someone is being kept away from their home for a year? Or when someone has drowned in the bath in a NHS service. Look at the photo of the tiny Thomas Rawnsley being led away by two policeman and ask what other side you need to hear about that photo? There are probably more weapons in the kit bag. Lies? Certainly. Spin? Everytime.
So, what have the families got? This may sound a bit pompous but I do believe that what families have is infinitely more valuable and more likely to be successful than the weapons I’ve mentioned above:
1. Their Truth. Hard to hang on to whilst under a major attack but it has to be clung to like an orang-utan to a tree. It’s not a fashionable concept but I do believe that the truth will eventually out. We have to remember the power of our truth.
2. Courage. These battles are long and bloody and are designed to kill. It takes all one’s inner strength to keep pushing for the truth. But we all have it.
3. Humour. Sara and Rich have this in spades. I think it’s a very powerful weapon but it can never be contrived. I remember sitting in a meeting with a bunch of professionals back in 2010 and after an especially ripe ten minutes of gibberish and jargon, I spontaneously burst out laughing. I couldn’t stop it – it came from nowhere. But as I looked sheepishly around the table, I saw that my laughing at them had destroyed something. They can deal with anger. They can deal with passivity. They can deal with tears. They can deal with fear. But laughter got right in the jugular.
4. Support. These battles can’t be won on your own. Chose your team well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Justice shouldn’t be a war but it so often is. The truth shouldn’t be so hard to discover but it is seldom plain sailing. Justice for LB do it consistently right and I love them for it.