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A major injustice

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Lady Butler-Sloss: Judges decision should have set alarm bells ringing.

Lady Butler-Sloss: Judges decision should have set alarm bells ringing.

A COURT case involving parents of a severely disabled adult is still ongoing despite the Council’s conduct, and that of an expert witness it instructed, being the subject of fi erce criticism by the Ombudsman and the GMC. In order to preserve the identity of the disabled adult concerned and their parents, The Herald will adopt the Ombudsman’s approach to anonymity. In 2010, carers from Perthyn Care were assigned to assist in the care of H, the 18 years-old autistic daughter of Mr & Mrs G. Mr & Mrs G became concerned that despite being provided with £10 to buy lunch for H, the carers failed to provide receipts for the expenditure. Mrs G, in particular, became concerned that the money was being pocketed and decided to end the arrangement with the carers and told them that their services were no longer required. The same day as they were told their services were not required, the carers prevailed upon Mrs G to allow them to take H swimming.

She agreed. Mr & Mrs G did not see their daughter for six months. The carers reported that H, by means of a controversial communication method called ‘facilitated communication’ had made serious allegations of sexual abuse against her parents, including an allegation that Mr & Mrs G had prostituted her to men. Facilitated Communication is a system whereby it is claimed a disabled person, through the use of a letter board and simple vocabulary, is able to express themselves. They can do this themselves or with assistance. Signifi cantly, the allegations of abuse were made when H was ‘assisted’ by the carers who had been dismissed by Mr & Mrs G. H was removed to Ty Hendy by the local authority, a police investigation was launched, and the council planned – at a later stage – to foster H out of the County and beyond her parents’ reach. In order to buttress its position, the Council instructed Dr Rowan Wilson to pen a report determining H’s ability and – particularly – her mental capacity. Dr Wilson, through the use of what can be deduced to be facilitated communication assisted by a third party, possibly one of the carers who had transmitted the allegations, determined that H had a relatively sophisticated vocabulary and understanding and was mentally competent.

He concluded that H understood what it was claimed she had alleged against her parents. The specialist appointed by the Council to advise it was not expert in the use of facilitated communication and The Herald’s enquiries have revealed that he generally specialises in dementia care. Dr Wilson admitted to a GMC disciplinary meeting convened over his conduct in the matter that he had no experience of the use of facilitated communication either to gather evidence or to assess mental competence. Dr Wilson was found guilty of serious misconduct by the GMC. In mitigation, Dr Wilson’s lawyer told the GMC hearing that the doctor had acted in good faith but had been misled by a care worker, engaged by Carmarthenshire Council, acting on a ‘very signifi cant element of malice’. For the avoidance of doubt, that care worker was one of those dismissed by Mrs G in October 2010. The question of facilitated communication’s use should not, however, have arisen. In 2000, Lady Butler-Sloss, President of the High Court Family Division, had given a stern direction about facilitated communication, declaring that it was a dangerous, unverifi ed technique that should never be used again in any British court to support sexual abuse charges. Indeed, an expert witness at the GMC hearing into Dr Wilson’s conduct told that tribunal that one phone call (or a Google search for that matter) would have alerted Dr Wilson to the unreliability of Facilitated Communication. A 2001 paper that discussed Lady Butler-Sloss’ decision should have sent even more alarm bells ringing. Its author reported: “fathers are being falsely accused of sexually molesting a child because of information a child types with a hand held by a facilitator.”

The Council, even while it prepared to foster H permanently away from her parents, were made aware of Lady Butler-Sloss’ comments by Mr G. Despite being made aware of potential diffi culties in its ‘case’, County Council Social Services delayed instructing a second expert, Professor Patricia Howlin from November 2010 until January 2011. Professor Howlin’s report was as devastating as it was revealing. She concluded that H not only lacked capacity but cast extreme doubt on the way the facilitator, one of the care workers accused of misconduct by Mr & Mrs G, guided H’s answers. Professor Howlin tested H’s responses when guided and when not guided on the same basic questions. One of Prof Howlin’s conclusions is particularly troubling: ‘on tasks involving facilitated communication, H proved very capable of responding correctly to questions when she and the facilitator had access to the same stimuli. However, when the facilitator was not aware of what H was being asked not a single one of her responses was accurate or correct. This marked disparity between her ability to respond under different conditions cannot be explained by the fact that she was “not on top form”.’ If that is worrying, Prof Howlin’s conclusions on Dr Rowan Wilson’s report is shattering.

‘With respect to the report by Dr. Rowan Wilson it should be noted that this constantly makes statements such as “H stated”; “repeatedly stated”; “recalled my name”; “was able accurately to recall a conversation”; “spontaneously mentioned Ty Hendy in one of her answers”; “repeatedly used complex words”; “has excellent language skills”; “clearly stated”; “clearly understood”; “expressed a clear preference for”; “was able to resume communicating a train of thought”; “deliberated upon”; “showed ability to predict potential consequences”; etc., etc. In fact H “stated” nothing during that assessment. She did not speak at all and although this is barely mentioned, apart from a brief note on page 1, (one of the carers subject to a complaint by Mr & Mrs G) helped H communicate her answers”, it is not made at all clear that all H’s communications were made while supported by (the carer).

Although Dr. Wilson concludes that her communication was reliable’. Professor Howlin concluded that: ‘There is no evidence that H does communicate independently and hence it would be entirely inappropriate to accept any allegations of abuse based solely on statements made under facilitated communication. ‘Further, there is no indication that in any domain H is functioning above a fi ve year level, and in areas related to language, understanding and social relationships her ability is particularly poor. Thus, it is my view that she does not have the capacity to understand the repercussions of any allegations made.’ As far as the complaints of abuse went, that should have been the end of the matter. The fl awed premises upon which the Council had based its actions was systematically demolished by Professor Howlin. In the normal course of things, H should have been returned to her parents.

In fact, H did not return home until some three weeks after the Council received Prof Howlin’s report. Mr & Mrs G complained to the Ombudsman. While the Ombudsman was sympathetic to the complexities of the case and the difficult position in which Council staff found themselves, he described the Council’s conduct as perpetrating ‘a major injustice’. But that injustice was compounded by the Council’s knowledge on or by November 22, 2010, that the CPS had concluded there was no evidence upon which to base a prosecution. The Ombudsman went on to severely criticise the Council for claiming to accept the findings of a critical report prepared by Phil Tyrrell of the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru. The Ombudsman accused the Council of second-guessing the recommendations of a report it asserted to have accepted. The Herald understands that proceedings brought on behalf of H by a litigation friend, former County Councillor Marie Binney, alleging an unlawful deprivation of liberty, have been settled. Proceedings between Mr & Mrs G and H’s parents remains ongoing. Over four years after the Council returned H to her parents and over three years after a condemnatory Ombudsman’s report, the Council has still failed to reimburse Mr & Mrs G for its embarking upon a course of action which Mr & Mrs G say has ‘ruined their lives’ and caused them financial hardship.

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Appeal follows fatal road traffic collision in Llanelli

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE is investigating a fatal road traffic collision that happened in Llanelli last night. At approx. 8.15pm on Saturday 22 February the collision happened between a white Suzuki Swift car and a male pedestrian, at Church Street, Llanelli, near the Magistrates Court. Emergency services attended, but sadly the 53 year old pedestrian had sustained fatal injuries.

The Serious Collision Investigation Unit is appealing for any witnesses to the collision to get in touch, but they are also appealing to anyone who may have Dashcam footage of the incident to contact them. You can get in touch by phoning 101. Please quote reference DP-20200222-347, so our busy call handers can marry your information to the correct incident as quickly as possible. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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THREE men are being questioned by police in connection with a burglary in Llanelli this weekend.

A cash register containing around £1,500, a charity collection box, and approximately £1,000 worth of stock were stolen from Marzano’s Café Bar in Cowell Street in the early hours of Sunday, February 16.

Today (Tuesday) three men aged 35, 39 and 27 were arrested on suspicion of burglary.

Chief Inspector Chris Neve said property searches were also being conducted in the Llanelli area as part of the investigation.

“I would like to reassure the community of Llanelli that we take incidents like this extremely seriously,” said Chief Inspector Neve.

“I would also like to thank everyone who has come forward with information so far.”

Café owner Andrew Marzano said: “I am extremely grateful to Dyfed-Powys Police for their efforts since we reported the incident to them. 

“I am also extremely grateful and humbled to the local community as we have had hundreds of messages of support from far and wide.”

Anyone with further information that could help police should contact 101, quoting reference DPP/0005/17/02/2020/01/C.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired you can also text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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Dyfed-Powys Police appeal following Llanelli road traffic collision

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Dyfed-Powys Police is appealing for information following a road traffic collision which occurred at approximately 12.15am, this morning, Tuesday 18th February, 2020.

A black Audi A4 estate and a pedestrian were involved in the collision on Station Rd, Llanelli. The pedestrian was taken to hospital with what are described as serious injuries.

Anyone who witnessed the collision, anyone who has information regarding the collision or information relating to the occupant of the vehicle is urged to contact the Serious Collision Investigation Unit quoting reference DP-20200218-006.

Police can be contacted by phoning 101, online at http://bit.ly/DPPReportOnline, or by email. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.”

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