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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 becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’

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RESIDENTS in a large part of Llanelli are being put under new local restrictions in a ‘health protection zone’ following a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The town is seeing a concentrated spread of cases compared with other parts of Carmarthenshire – in the last seven days, 85 positive cases have been identified in Llanelli (151.6 per 100,000 of the population) compared to 24 cases in the rest of Carmarthenshire (18.1 per 100,000 of the population).*

Public Health Wales officials are expecting numbers to continue rising over the coming week.

Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board have worked with the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to agree the temporary restrictions at sub-county level to try and halt the spread of the virus.

As of 6pm on Saturday September 26, 2020, residents living in defined parts of Llanelli will not be able to visit anyone else’s home, or accept visitors into their home, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as providing care for a vulnerable person.

They should not arrange to meet indoors with anyone who they don’t live with, and travel in and out of the ‘health protection zone’ will also be limited – people should not leave the area or travel into the area unless it is essential. Travelling in and out of the zone for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

People are being asked to wear face coverings anywhere where they cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people, including collecting children from school, in addition to the rules which already require them to wear a face covering in indoor spaces like shops and on public transport.

All indoor and outdoor visits to residential care homes have also been suspended.

Students may still travel into and out of the ‘health protection zone’ to go to school or college.

People living in the defined area of Llanelli must work from home, and employers must take all reasonable steps to support staff to do so.

Indoor public spaces such as leisure centres should only be used by people living in the defined area.

Shops will remain open, but people living outside the defined area of Llanelli should avoid travelling to visit them and shop in their own locality wherever possible.

The specific wards covered in the defined area of Llanelli are:

  • Bigyn
  • Bynea
  • Dafen
  • Elli
  • Felinfoel
  • Glanymor
  • Hendy
  • Hengoed
  • Llangennech
  • Lliedi
  • Llwynhendy
  • Tyisha
  • Swiss Valley

Although the pattern of increased positive cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Llanelli area where the restrictions have been strengthened, the whole of Carmarthenshire has now been put on alert, with a warning that the tighter restrictions may be extended if cases continue to spread.

Everyone – including those in the defined areas of Llanelli – is being urged to follow the national guidance around social distancing, good hygiene, self-isolation, testing and face coverings.

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “It is worrying to see how sharply the number of positive cases has risen in the Llanelli area, and action has had to be taken to help stop the spread and break the chain of infections concentrated in this area to prevent a whole county lockdown.

“We must all do the right thing, follow the advice and protect each other. In parts of Llanelli, we’re asking people and businesses to make even greater sacrifices – we fully appreciate the impact this will have, but there is no other way. We must stop the spread.”

A mobile testing unit has been set up in Llanelli to manage the increased demand by local residents who have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a change or loss to taste or smell or a new continuous cough.

Reporting of positive cases in the town is fully expected to rise during the next two weeks with the increase in more targeted testing. But this is a positive indicator that cases are being identified and control measures put in place.

Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board Maria Battle said: “Our local community has given us such tremendous support during the past few months. To protect the health of our people, including the most vulnerable, and to ensure our NHS resources are available to provide people with the care they need; we need the help of our Llanelli population and wider community now more than ever before. Whilst hospital admissions have not yet increased again for COVID cases, we have seen a sharp rise in positive cases in the community, and in time this is likely to have an impact on hospital admissions. The very best way we can support each other and those we love, is to follow local restrictions, minimise our contacts, practice good hygiene and self-isolate and book a test if we have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

There should be no reason for Llanelli residents to travel excessive distances for a test, as there will be tests available in Llanelli and Carmarthen. Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

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Tir Coed build outdoor classroom for Cross Hands Primary

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The local charity Tir Coed teamed up with Cross Hands Primary School to design and install a locally grown woodland shelter to enable primary school pupils to benefit from outdoor lessons-even when
the rain pours!

Last year Cross Hands Primary School received funding from Carmarthenshire is Kind for their intergenerational project. The project brought the schoolchildren together with older people in the community. Through intergenerational activities, everyone involved increases social connectedness, reduces social isolation, learns from one another and has a great time!

Before the lockdown, Tir Coed was contracted to lead a group mainly made up of parents from the school on a shelter-building course. The attendees would gain knowledge and skills and the children and the older people would be able to use the shelter, a third generation now included in this
fantastic project. The plans, however, had to change due to restrictions and in an effort to have it ready for the children when they returned to school, three intrepid Activity Leaders braved the wet August weather to build the beautiful shelter .

Studies have shown that being in the outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. With this addition to their already impressive outdoor area, it is hoped that more learning can
take place outside the classroom. Deputy Head, Emma Walters said, “It looks amazing! I am very impressed with the shelter and I cannot thank Tir Coed enough for organising this. Additional covered space in the outdoors will mean that we can take more learning into our lovely nature
area.”

If you would like to find out more about the work of Tir Coed or have a project you would like our help with you can contact Nancy, the Carmarthenshire Coordinator: carms@tircoed.org.uk

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Local sailor taking on virtual London marathon

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A local sailor based in the Falkland Islands will be taking on the Virtual London Marathon this October to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

Curtis Bowen, 24, from Llanelli, South Wales, was due to take on the London Marathon for SSAFA this April, but following the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown, the race was cancelled. 

Fortunately, the London Marathon team created the Virtual London Marathon in its place, allowing runners to take on the challenge virtually alongside thousands of other runners on the 4th October.

Curtis said: “It was a shame that the London Marathon couldn’t go ahead as planned in April, but I think it is amazing that I am still able to partake whilst being in the Falkland Islands. I’m the first person to ever run the London Marathon in the Falkland Islands.”  

Curtis is currently serving in the Royal Navy, as a Leading Supply Chain Logistician, and has served for four years. His Father also served in the Royal Navy for twenty-three years.

The live virtual event on Sunday 4th October will invite runners to run the London Marathon in their own way, joining up to 45,000 runners up and down the country – and across the world – in the virtual 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, The 40th Race.

Curtis decided to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity after being an avid supporter of the charity and being inspired by his Father, Andrew, who raised over £6,000 for SSAFA. 

I chose to run the London Marathon for SSAFA to challenge myself and raise awareness for a great cause. My younger brother sadly took his own life a couple of years ago and I know that SSAFA are there to support those struggling with their Mental Health. I want to raise as much money as I can to support those struggling within the Armed Forces community.”

“My Father was also supposed to be running the London Marathon this year, but will now be completing the challenge virtually, alongside my brother, Luke, 12,000km away in South Wales.”

If you would like to support Curtis, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Andrew-Bowen-London-marathon2020

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