Court criticises home closures

The Department of Health was criticised by a high court judge
last week for acting “prematurely and inappropriately” when it shut
seven homes for disturbed children in Somerset.

In March last year, Prospects Care Services Ltd became the first
voluntary organisation to have the registration of its homes
cancelled by the DoH, following two visits from the Social Services
Inspectorate in 1999.

The DoH alleged that the welfare of some children at the homes
had not been safeguarded, physical restraint guidelines had not
been understood, and that the homes were “isolated from the
mainstream of residential care”.

It also claimed that there had been breaches of the 1991
Children’s Home regulations and that owner Stephen Hyland was
“unsuitable to have charge of the care of children”. In July 1998
an employment tribunal found that Hyland had sexually harassed a
female staff member.

In October 2000 – after the company had gone into liquidation –
the registered homes tribunal upheld the company’s appeal against
the DoH decision, despite agreeing that there were “unsatisfactory
features” about the management of the homes.

It also ruled that Hyland’s conduct towards staff was not
relevant to the issue of whether registration should be cancelled.
High court judge Mr Justice Scott Baker last week backed the
tribunal’s decision and dismissed the DoH appeal to have it

Mr Justice Baker said the case contained a “cautionary tale”
about the power of the health secretary to cancel registrations and
the corresponding responsibility to ensure that it is not exercised
unjustifiably. “The inspectorate and Mr Hyland got cross at each
other when they should have been working together towards a common
goal,” he said.

“The secretary of state, through the inspectorate, holds a
powerful weapon – a trump card – in being able to cancel the
registration of voluntary homes. Where, as here, that weapon has
been used prematurely and inappropriately, the consequences can be

Hyland was awarded legal costs against the DoH and will be
seeking legal advice on whether to apply for compensation from the

He said that the organisation’s 90 staff had all lost their jobs
and that local authorities across the country had lost a “valuable
resource” for dealing with the most severely disturbed children,
many of whom have a history of violence.

Describing the judgement as “a fanfare for the common man”,
Hyland said: “The damage is immeasurable. I would hope that the
secretary of state will look at this and think that he has been
poorly advised on the whole matter.”

A spokesperson from the DoH said: “As the concerns about the
homes continued, the department sought to appeal against the
tribunal decision. We have learned that the high court has uphold
the tribunal decision and we are now considering the high court’s

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