The couple caring for a severely autistic man at the centre of the landmark Bournewood incapacity case were subject to a whispering campaign by clinicians, an investigation has ruled.
NHS investigators upheld a complaint that staff in the former Bournewood Community and Mental Health Trust made detrimental references to the mental health and competence of one of the carers.
And they made unfounded suggestions that the couple refused to co-operate with a psychological assessment of the man.
The report, by Surrey and Borders Partnership Trust (SBPT), which has replaced Bournewood, found the couple were never made aware of the allegations or given the opportunity to respond to them.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in October 2004 that the man, known only as HL, was unlawfully deprived of his liberty when he was detained at Bournewood Hospital for three months in 1997.
HL, who it was agreed lacked capacity, brought legal proceedings against the managers of the hospital after being held in his own "best interests" under common law, rather than discharged back into the couple's care.
Responding to the judgment, the government consulted last year on new measures to protect the rights of people who lack the capacity to object.
A Department of Health spokesperson said this week that it would also publish a policy paper on the issue "in the not too distant future".
In a letter to the couple, SBPT chief executive Fiona Edwards apologised unreservedly for the "failings that have been highlighted".
She said: "It is clear that the views of professionals were unfounded in these circumstances as HL has been comfortably settled into your family and home surroundings for a number of years and this, in itself, is testament to your abilities as carers."
The couple have welcomed the result of the investigation, saying that HL's treatment would not now be "influenced by unwarranted remarks made about us in his file".
They also praised the care and support they had received since Bournewood became Surrey and Hants Border Trust and subsequently SBPT.