On Thomas Rawnsley’s 21st, Maisie’s tweet storm and the Kesgrave abuse inquiry

A picture of Thomas Rawnsley, a young man with Down's syndrome wearing a red Heinz tomato sauce T-shirt, holding a small birthday cake with a large '20' candle on itToday would have been Thomas Rawnsley’s 21st birthday. Thomas was a man with Down’s syndrome and autism, who was in a succession of care homes and NHS hospital units from 2013 until he died of pneumonia earlier this year. His mother had been fighting to get him individual provision in his home town, but a Court of Protection judge last year sided with those who wanted to keep him institutionalised. Thomas’s family were planning a protest outside Downing Street to mark his birthday, but had to cancel it because of a planned rail strike (which was itself, in the event, cancelled). Bringing Us Together have a collection of blog posts about Thomas and you may like to read my post from the week after he died. There is still an appeal for Thomas’s family’s costs, which have raised £4,345 (of a target of £20,000) at the time of writing. (More: Justice for Nico.)

As a reminder of why getting people with learning disabilities out of units like the one Thomas suffered in, this week a unit in Lincolnshire was temporarily closed after “a number of serious incidents”; the chief executive of the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS trust said that these were related to standards of care and patient safety. The patients have either been discharged or transferred elsewhere (which, of course, could be hundreds of miles away). So four years after Winterbourne View and nearly two years after the death of Connor Sparrowhawk, standards of care in some NHS learning disability units are still poor.

Graphic showing Maisie Shaw holding a sign saying "I miss home. I miss Mummy" with instructions as to how to participate in the tweet storm (see this paragraph).This evening at 7pm BST, Maisie Shaw’s family are holding a “tweet storm” to press the Department of Health and NHS England to re-open an inpatient paediatric mental health unit in Hull so that children in mental health crisis do not have be moved out of area to get treatment. In Maisie’s case this means a secure unit in Bury, and in at least one other case children were transferred to a unit in Cheadle which also houses young offenders as no other accommodation was available. The latest on Maisie herself is that she is being prepared for discharge but it was delayed after she disappeared on a home visit two weeks ago and was found only after she had injured herself. The police took 13 hours to respond and the local hospital did not know how to respond to a child in a mental health crisis, and in the end staff had to be called from the unit in Bury to take her back. If you are taking part in the Tweet Storm then please include the hashtag #getmaisiehome and link the petition.

On a more personal note, I heard from the police in Suffolk two weeks ago that no further charges are to be pressed regarding the physical abuse that took place at my school, Kesgrave Hall, in the 1980s and 90s; I have written about this extensively on this site in the past but another former pupil, Alexander Hanff, had a piece published on the Guardian’s website last week about the effect the abuse (much more of which was sexual than in my case) and the investigation had on him; you can read the long comment by me underneath it. One member of staff (John McKno, who I never met) is still facing charges, but the other abuse accusations were all of common assault which cannot be prosecuted this long after the event (I was told this by the police when I spoke to them, so this news was not a surprise to me), and some of the staff involved are dead, including two who committed suicide after the police caught up with them. One of the dead is Victor Harris, the abusive care worker named in a previous entry, although his death was nothing to do with the investigation. I was also told that none of the former staff are still teaching, and could not have continued to do so after being the focus of an investigation of this kind.

The two other reasons they could not pursue charges were that they could not have persuaded a jury that the staff’s behaviour was not lawful chastisement, as corporal punishment was not banned in private schools in 1987 as it was in state schools, and that reports from boys conflicted, with some old boys speaking very highly of members of staff that others said were abusive. (As I wrote in my comment, the first reason is dubious because staff knew that using force was illegal and told us this many times as an excuse for why they could not discipline bullies; they would use violence, which could not at all be confused with controlled physical punishment, in response to petty personal slights.) I didn’t particularly want to give evidence and have to prove that the abuse was abuse, while various people would have been on hand to claim I was out of control or making a fuss about nothing. I’m glad some of these men have had the frighteners put on them and that the abuse has been exposed.

We must not let things like this happen again; we must not take people from happy homes and put them in institutions when there is no need. I was sent there because the teaching community in Croydon chose to wash its hands of me because I was a bit of a handful — and yes, that’s really all it was. There must be due diligence about the sort of places we send people to when they really need residential care, but there must be an expectation that parents parent and professionals do their jobs. When these things don’t happen, people with special needs of whatever type end up on the “waste-heap of life”. It stinks. And it can’t be allowed to go on.

A graphic composed of lines and words. A stick figure of Thomas says 'I am Thomas, I am human'. Beneath: 'NOT a piece of rubbish to be labelled & warehoused in the WASTE HEAP OF LIFE. IT STINKS'. The 'waste heap' (with lines indicating steam rising' reads: 'Learning Disability, Autism, Down's Syndrome, Learning Disabled, Assessment & Treatment Units'.

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