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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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Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize

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LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.

After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.

The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.

“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.

“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”

Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.

“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”

Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.

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Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended

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THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.

Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.

Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.

It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.

The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.

“It is not appropriate to comment further.”

Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.

She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.

According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.

“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.

“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”

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Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour

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POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.

According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.

These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.

HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.

Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.

Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.

“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.

“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.

“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”

These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.

The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.

That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.

Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”

Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.

“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”

He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”

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