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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 ‘Banksy’: Mayor covers graffiti rat in protective plastic

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LLANELLI Mayor David Darkin believes graffiti found on charity shop wall could potentially be a Banksy.

The piece has been covered with protective plastic by the council while they determine the authenticity of the piece.

David Darkin, Mayor of Llanelli told this newspaper: “I was approached by a local artist Roz Moreton, who believes the artwork is a Banksy in an attempt to preserve the piece.

Roz who studied art in Bristol and lived in London has said she has been exposed to numerous Banksy works including his rats on Westminster Bridge, and spotted the ‘rat’ straight away.

Darkin added “She first spotted the graffiti around ten years ago, but she kept her findings to herself so that she could go back and visit the work.

“It was only after the recent news of the incident in Swansea, where part of a suspected piece of Banksy artwork was stolen, that she decided to approach me to ask for help to protect the piece”.

The art dealer who bought Banksy’s ‘Season’s Greetings’ which appeared on a garage in Port Talbot in December, has met with the mayor in Neath to view images of the artwork.

John Bradner, Essex based gallery owner, paid six figures for the Port Talbot addition, is planning on visiting the site to see the piece for himself.

Mr Darkin added “After showing John Bradner the images he is fairly confident that the piece is Banksy’s work, the fact it was spotted ten years ago ties in with ‘Banksy’s rats’ which was his theme at the time when they appeared across industrial towns.

“Mr Bradner called me yesterday and asked if there was anything else I can do to preserve the piece until he comes to view it in a few weeks to check its authenticity.”

Speaking on the piece Councillor John Jenkins said “Fingers crossed it is a Banksy, but worst-case scenario it isn’t and is still a talking point and people still come and see him.”

Speaking to Mr Darkin he said no attempts have been made yet to contact Banksy to confirm the piece as far as he is aware.

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36 charges relating to chemicals and components for making bombs

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A 33-YEAR-OLD male  is facing 36 charges relating to chemicals and components which can be used to make bombs.

He was remanded in custody at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday (Feb 15)

The man, from Port Talbot, was arrested in October 2017 in an operation between counter terrorism officers, South Wales Fire and Rescue and The Welsh Ambulance Service.

Detective Superintendent James Hall said no known links to terrorist offences or groups were found. The man will appear in court again at a date to be fixed.

He has also been charged with possessing a taser and manufacturing and possessing class A drugs.

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University makes formal criminal complaint

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A FORMAL criminal complaint has been by made by Swansea University, as part of the ongoing investigation into the issues surrounding the recent suspension of four members of staff.

South Wales Police said: “Dyfed-Powys Police and South Wales Police can confirm that they have received a complaint which is currently subject of consideration by both forces.”

Last November, the university’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Richard B Davies, Dean of the School of Management Prof Marc Clement, as well as two other members of staff, who have not been named, were suspended.

Prof Davies has been suspended for alleged gross negligence whilst Prof Clement was suspended for alleged gross misconduct. Both individuals have denied any wrongdoing. Registrar Andrew Rhodes confirmed at the time that this action was taken after an internal investigation.

In a statement, the university said: “Swansea University has been in regular dialogue with the authorities since November 2018 based on the findings of our initial investigation. A formal criminal complaint has been made and the matter is with South Wales Police and Dyfed Powys Police. We will of course continue to co-operate fully with them. Our processes, which are being carried out by an independent investigating manager, are ongoing.”

The investigation has looked into the academics’ involvement in both the £200m Life Science and Wellbeing Village project in Llanelli, and a £600m plan for a private medical university and hospital in Kuwait.

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