The Bournewood betrayal

Eleven years after starting legal proceedings over the unlawful detention of an autistic man in a psychiatric hospital, his carers are still none the wiser as to who was responsible for his mistreatment.

The couple claim the man, known as HL, looked like “someone out of Belsen” when he was released. They took their case to the High Court, Court of Appeal and the European Court of Human Rights – which ruled that he had been deprived of his right to liberty.

A serious case review from the Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board has added little to a 2002 health ombudsman report – except the bitter pill that if the detention happened today it could be investigated as potential professional abuse. But it concluded that today’s criteria cannot be applied to practice 11 years ago.

Why not? Abuse is abuse, whenever and wherever it takes place. The couple are justifiably angry that only the review’s summary has been made public. This secrecy from local authorities is standard practice because there is no statutory requirement to make these reviews public.

How can we have faith in such a system? More importantly, how can practice ever improve if no one knows what has gone on? In July we ran an article on this very issue, which revealed that sometimes not even the staff involved see the full report. This policy makes a mockery of all those who insist that “lessons have been learned” every time a child dies or an adult is abused.

This article is published in the 25 September edition of Community Care under the headline “The Bournewood betrayal”

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