Parents of accident victim call for tighter risk assessment in homes

parents of a 24-year-old man with Asperger’s syndrome who died on
an outing from his residential home are calling for tighter
procedures to ensure staff are fully aware of the risks on such

Allan opened the door of a moving minibus and stepped out onto the
M5 motorway in February 1999. He sustained horrific injuries and
died six days later in hospital.

He was
travelling with four people with learning difficulties from the
home, which specialised in clients with challenging behaviour. The
group was accompanied by two care assistants, one driving and one
in the front passenger seat.

parents were told Ridgley may have become distressed when one of
the group started shouting. “The staff turned up the music to drown
out the commotion and the next thing they knew there was a draft
from the open door and my son was gone,” said John Allan this

He and
his wife Penny are highlighting their son’s case as they feel
lessons could be learned by local authorities who place young
people in care and staff who work in homes.

have approached an independent advocacy service, the Centre for
Corporate Accountabil-ity in London, which shares their

couple believe the home’s risk assessment focused on potential
hazards in the building rather than what could happen outside.

also feel that as the home catered for people with challenging
behaviour, and because their son had a history of self-harm, a
member of staff should have travelled in the back of the minibus
with clients.

Initially, the police treated the incident as a criminal matter but
the Crown Prosecution Service decided that, although there may have
been negligence, it did not constitute gross negligence.

In 1999
an inquest returned an open verdict and charges were brought
against the home owner under health and safety legislation. He
denied negligence and this July the crown court dropped the case
when the local authority announced it was offering no evidence.

two years hoping for some sort of closure we were just devastated
by the decision,” said John Allan.

“When we
went to see why the council were not proceeding, their answer to
our every question was ‘we have taken counsel’s advice’.”

authority gave the Allans a copy of this advice. It hinged on the
fact that the home, after two years, had finally produced a written
copy of its guidelines for the supervision of residents when
outside the home.

report made no specific mention of any vehicle. It had statements
such as ‘residents should understand the purpose of the trip’ and
‘residents should be safe and secure on a trip.’ But there was no
flesh on the bones as to how you should keep people safe,” added
Penny Allan.

barrister also highlighted the fact that while the home had
received an earlier positive report from the authority’s homes
inspectors, who had described it as “friendly and welcoming”, a
report by health and safety inspectors after the accident had noted
a number of failings.

barrister advised the local authority that discrepancies between
the two reports would “both undermine the prosecution and lead to
bad publicity”.

John and
Penny Allan believe the evidence should have been subject to the
scrutiny of the court and that the authority was wrong to drop the
matter. But they are also concerned that their local council, which
referred Ridgley to the home in a neighbouring area, is also
unwilling to look into the case.

social services department have said they are unable to discuss it.
They’re not unsympathetic. But they refuse to go into what happened
to him, which seems odd considering they were paying almost
£1,000 a week to keep him there,” added Penny Allan.

A social
worker’s assessment of Ridgley urged staff to be vigilant and noted
there was a risk of him fleeing from stressful situations. The
family were told that the care plan drawn up for their son was very

“So why
did he die?” asked Mr Allan. “Do homes really give enough
consideration to the instructions they pass on to staff who go on
these outings? Are people really clear over what to do if there are
difficulties? We believe risk assessment procedures should be
tightened up. With our case even if you took Ridgley out of the
equation, there was still a potential problem on that minibus.”

Allans are also concerned at the role of homes inspectors. “What
are they looking at? They seem to say ‘you’ve met these basic
standards so that makes you a good home’. But there’s so much more
to it.”

police superintendent who handled the case wrote to the coroner
stating: “The question remains: how was a man with learning
difficulties able to exit a vehicle at speed on a motorway?”

“For my
wife and I that question remains unanswered,” said John Allan.
“We’re pursuing this as we just don’t want anyone else to have to
go through what we’ve been through.”

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