Bournewood serious case review is criticised by HL’s carers

The carers of an autistic man detained unlawfully and unnecessarily in hospital in the landmark 1997 Bournewood case have expressed their disappointment with a serious case review, published last week.

The Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board review is the latest in a series of probes into the four months that the man, known as HL, spent in Bournewood hospital in 1997, but his carers said its findings had given them no “feeling of closure”.

case history of reviews etc

In particular, they attacked the fact that the review had only been published in summary – as is standard practice – and that it made no finding of professional abuse.


In July 2006, Community Care saw a video of HL on the day of his discharge from Bournewood, which showed him as exceptionally thin with a body dotted with wounds.

The serious case review found that HL’s period in Bournewood had “resulted in an adverse effect upon his physical condition”, that his detention was unnecessarily long with community-based alternatives not being considered and that the “system” did not allow it to be challenged.

It said that if the detention happened today it could be investigated as potential professional abuse under Surrey’s multi-agency safeguarding procedures “due to alleged misuse of therapeutic powers”.

But the review added: “Given the widespread practice at the time, applying today’s criteria to what happened then, it is unlikely it would have been found to have been professional abuse.”

HL’s carers criticise case review decision

In response, one of HL’s carers said: “It can never be right to mistreat people. It was wrong today, so it was wrong then.”

HL’s case led the government to introduce safeguards for people who lack capacity who are detained for treatment or care. The deprivation of liberty safeguards, which come into force in April 2009, provide a framework for authorising and challenging detentions, which has been welcomed by HL’s carers.

A spokesperson for Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board said: “The review group concluded that it would be highly improbable now, and in the future, for any individual to be subject to the circumstances that HL experienced 11 years ago. The recommendations made in this serious case review will be monitored by the board to ensure actions are put in place which will continue to protect the most vulnerable people in society.”

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