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Special school to close after teenager’s padded room ordeal

The mother of a teenager with autism who was repeatedly confined to a padded room at his residential special school has spoken of the “remarkable” progress he has made since a court ruled his treatment was unlawful.

The 19-year-old was often prevented from leaving the so-called “Blue Room” at Beech Tree School, near Preston, which is run by the disability charity Scope.

The mother of the young man – known only as C – has only now been able to speak out publicly after a judge lifted an anonymity order which had prevented any naming of the school or the local authority involved, Wigan Council.

C’s mother took the council to the Court of Protection, which ruled 12 months ago that it was a breach of her son’s rights to confine him to the padded room to control his “challenging behaviour” – at one stage on 192 occasions in just one month – without seeking a court order under the Mental Capacity Act authorising the school to deprive him of his liberty.

In delivering his ruling last year, Mr Justice Ryder concluded that the failure to provide C with the “specialist, qualified care and treatment” he clearly needed was “unacceptable”.

C’s mother said the improvement her son had made in the last year had vindicated the family’s battle.

 Her son now enjoys walks in the country and trips to a swimming pool, while his attention span and vocabulary have “dramatically increased”.

She said: “The ‘professionals’ within the named organisations each had the authority to halt the tragic existence of my son’s incarceration within the Blue Room but failed in their duty to do so over a considerable period of time.  His elder brother and I have witnessed the practice of seclusion enough to know that it is unnatural, particularly cruel to someone with the diagnosis of C and serves only to dehumanize, and there should be no place for its use in 21st century ‘care’.”

C’s brother added: “He has gained weight, grown taller and shows affection to those around him. I can now enjoy a relationship with him where we laugh and have fun, which is something I hadn’t seen my brother do for some time.”

Mathieu Culverhouse, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, which helped the family win the case, said: “This shocking case is one in which the responsible authorities failed to obtain the legal authorisation needed to deprive someone of their liberty.

“It’s clear from the progress C has made over the past nine months that the unlawful treatment he was receiving was not working.”

 As a result of the case, and falling pupil numbers, Scope has decided to close the school.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “On the one hand it is good to see a special school closing but it is terrible it took such an appalling breach of human rights for the decision to be made.”

Richard Hawkes, Scope’s chief executive, said the charity was “very sorry” that C “didn’t get the support he needed”.

He said: “It took us too long to realise that we had become over-reliant on an approach that wasn’t working.” He said it had been a “really challenging case” and that the charity had acted with “nothing but the best intentions”.

He added: “We tried too hard and for too long, to manage a very difficult situation without securing the right combination of external expertise and support.” Wigan Council declined to comment.

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