Thomas Rawnsley: funeral today

The funeral of Thomas Rawnsley, the young man with Down’s syndrome and autism who died at the Kingdom House unit in Sheffield earlier this month, where he had been held on a Court of Protection Deprivation of Liberty authorisation against his and his family’s wishes, is to be held in Wibsey, Bradford today. I’m not able to be there because of work, but if you’re in the area it’s at 1:30pm at St Paul’s church and the burial is at 2:30pm at North Bierley cemetery. The picture shows him standing with his sister, and his mother Paula published it on Facebook to ‘show how tiny he was’ — as you can see, he was only as tall as she was and she appears to be bending down, which casts doubt on any suggestion that he was big and unmanageable.

There are two other anniversaries today. One is the first anniversary of the publication of the Verita report into Connor Sparrowhawk’s death in an Assessment and Treatment unit in Oxford, a death that was found to be preventable. His inquest is not until the autumn of this year and the final staff disciplinary action is ‘half finished’.

The second is that it’s Stella Young’s birthday — she would have been 33, but died unexpectedly in early December last year of an aneurysm. She was an Australian comedian and disability rights activist who had osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle-bone disorder) but was thought to be healthy, although it does come with a reduced life expectancy. Stella didn’t have a learning disability, but I include this because people need to understand that disabled people often die young or at least younger. We do not know yet if Thomas Rawnsley’s death was a consequence of his condition or of abuse he had suffered while at Kingdom House or a previous ‘home’ or a mixture of the two, but the upshot is that he spent his entire adult life in institutions where he was unhappy rather than with or near his family. If you are making decisions about a disabled person’s life, care or housing, whether the impairment is physical or cognitive, you must understand that this could be the last decision made about them because they may not have long.

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