By Mark Neary
Six years ago today, I sat in the High Court and heard Justice Peter Jackson hand down his judgment in the case of Neary vs Hillingdon. Eighteen months earlier, my son Steven Neary, who had autism and severe learning difficulties, left home for three days respite as I was unwell. Hillingdon council then detained Steven in a positive behaviour unit for 359 days.
The judge’s ruling held that all four Deprivation of Liberty authorisations that had been served on Steven throughout 2010 had been unlawful and the council had breached Steven’s Article 5 and Article 8 human rights for the entire year.
Justice Jackson praised me in his judgment but what really touched me was how much his judgment demonstrated that he really understood Steven. After a year fighting a collective closed mind to Steven, this was moving and reinforcing. The day before the court hearing began, Hillingdon council issued a press release that Justice Jackson described as “a sorry document, creating an unfair and negative picture of Steven”.
To see my son described in the final judgment as a legitimate human being was incredibly liberating. It inspired me to write about our lives in a frame that shows that learning disabled people can lead ordinary, fulfilling lives. The judgment also motivated me to campaign for the human rights of people like Steven to be upheld.
‘Joy, love and foundation’
A lot has happened since 9th June 2011. I now have an alternative career as a writer and public speaker. Steven now has his own home, where he is very much king of his castle and he continues to thrive. Every so often as I observe Steven going about his daily business in his home, I am shaken by how different his life could have been.
Hillingdon’s plan was to send Steven 250 miles from home to a hospital in Wales. Having learned since of other people’s experiences in assessment and treatment units, I have no doubt that had Hillingdon’s plan been successful, Steven would still be there, six years on.
That thought chills me to the bone. All the relationships he values with his family, his friends, his support workers would have either ended or never have happened. The small things that give Steven’s life its meaning, like watching Mr Bean, listening to Abba, talking about memories to me, would be impossible in an institutionalised life. Being able to visit his uncle across the road and take him some cake is very different to the Skype contact that the council was recommending. He wouldn’t have had a life.
Thankfully, Steven has a life. Thanks to the legal world and the Human Rights Act, Steven has a good life. It’s a life that he has created for himself and that gives him joy, love and foundation. As a father, I am extremely proud of him and grateful for that.