Tuesday 26 September 2017

The Councillor's lost Daughter part two

Carina Burn had been removed from her parent's care without them being informed. Carmarthenshire County Council Social Services, on the evidence of 2 carers who claimed to be able to communicate with Carina, that she was now a competent adult, having previously been regarded at regular assessments  as a person with severe learnng and communication difficulties. Eventually it was proved that the whole thing was a hoax and the carers only pretended communication with their client. How were they able to maintain the fraud for months? How were the police, the Council officers and a senior doctor, all professionals, completely fooled by carers with little experience or training?

The ombudsman has produced an analytical and critical report in response to a complaint against Carmarthenshire County Council by Mr and Mrs Burn. It was never revealed to or discussed with any elected councillors in CCC, to my knowledge. As a member of the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee at the time, the matter was never discussed and my personal inquiries as to the measures taken to  both prevent a recurrence and the concerns of the Burns about the carers involved still being employed locally,  were ignored. The ombudsman's report was available on request to every member of the public who knew the reference number, but not to those elected members supposedly overseeing the performance of the Council's Social Care department.

The only person concerned who stood before a disciplinary panel , was the doctor, psychiatrist  Rowan Wilson, who had been deceived into confirming Carina Burn's supposedly adult capacity and verifying her testimony. Why CCC chose an old age psychiatrist with no experience with autistic conditions to make this assessment has never been explained.

His General Medical Council hearing reveals evidence explaining how he was fooled, not only by the carers but also by a social worker.  GMC Fitness to Practice hearings have the standing of a civil court and are conducted in a similar way.

The hearing. GMC ref no: 3547955 was a public hearing conducted 12th-15th November 2012. Carina is referred to as CB in the records, which her parents have allowed me to access. There was press coverage at the time.
GMC Offices Manchester

The panel findings were that Dr. Wilson conducted an examination of CB on the 8th November 2010 at the request of  Carms CC, using facilitated communication ("FC") in circumstances where patient CB was diagnosed as autistic and when he had no prior experience or informed knowledge of  FC.

Furthermore when conducting and reporting the assessment Dr Wilson failed to establish CB's cognitive capacity, accepted FC as a reliable technique without enquiry and failed to consider the discrepancy between CB's diagnosis of autism and her apparent language competency using FC. He also failed to test the validity of CB's use of FC. He then produced a report concluding that CB had full adult mental capacity when he had insufficient information so to conclude.

Mr Climie, Dr Wilson's defence barrister did not dispute the serious clinical mistake which had led to CB being kept in Care and denied access to her family. He submitted that there was a very significant element of malice attached to the allegations and mentions the dispute between the parents and carers over the disappearance of money without receipts and CB not attending the activities agreed for her. He mentions that Dr Wilson was unaware of these details.

Dr Wilson was asked to undertake an assessment of CB. Her social worker informed him that "CB has made disclosures to the police about her parents. Her parents are in full denial of this and are disputing  that she has the capacity to make this disclosure, let alone use the communication that she has recently been using very efficiently. They also believe that she cannot make decisions on where she lives or that she has the right to choose if she sees her parents or not."

Dr Wilson's subsequent report is full of wonder that this clearly disabled, childlike young woman without speech is able to remember names, describe her care home and "speak" through FC with a clearly adult voice.He was informed by the social worker and carers that she had a "far greater mental capacity than is actually the case".Using that information he had written a report that CB had the full capacity to make her own welfare decisions. 

FC is a controversial technique and Dame Butler-Sloss, when president of the Family Division ,ruled that FC could not be relied upon in family proceeding where allegations of abuse are concerned. Through their solicitor the parents raised these concerns with CCC and pushed for a proper expert assessment of Carina which was eventually arranged in March 2011.As I have previously described Dyfed Powys Police seem to have kept the parents on police bail at the request of a social worker up to this point ,with no evidence ever found of abuse.

Professor Howlin, an expert in Autistic Spectrum Disorders and a practitioner of FC, examined  Carina on the 1st March 2011 and showed that she lacked capacity due to her autistic spectrum disability, but could use FC to make simple statements appropriate to a young child. She wanted to go home. The carers and social worker who had been "using" FC , had no communication with Carina whatsoever .Carina was 19 years old but Professor Howlin assessed her language communication  as between  2 and 4 years of age.

At the GMC hearing Dr Wilson admitted his errors. The panel affirm that he should have made an independent assessment rather than operating under a number of assumptions, that he should have been aware of the serious consequences which could flow from a mistake and that the actions amounted to serious misconduct.

Dr Wilson expressed remorse and this was considered genuine. He had also taken some training in assessing Autistic Spectrum Disorders and had changed his outlook to such assessments, Despite the serious misconduct finding, the GMC found that this had been one incident which was unlikely to be repeated and so no restriction was placed on his practice.

The panel considered that he "will always remember the distressing consequences of {his} assessment of CB" and also that it was a salutary lesson which he would not forget.

Dr Wilson accepted the opinion of international Expert Professor Patricia Howlin without question. Carmarthenshire County Council Social work department, unfortunately. did not. Carina's imprisonment continued with the same carers still "communicating" for her using FC.

How she was finally released is the next instalment.

Siân Caiach

Wednesday 6 September 2017

The Councillor's lost Daughter Part one

County Councillors rarely feel they have to act against their own Local Authority but I did, and deliberately helped remove a vulnerable and helpless person from the care of Carmarthenshire County Council. This happened in 2011 but now that legal cases are completed I am free to talk about the appalling treatment of this young woman, then aged 19, by Carmarthenshire Social Services and carers provided by Perthyn, a private company paid by the council to provide "care" in this sad case.

Although Carmarthenshire County Council, Dyfed Powys Police and a psychiatrist have all accepted blame for this terrible mistaken and unlawful imprisonment of a young woman, Perthyn, whose carers made up false allegations and who appear to have given these staff, at best, poor training and supervision, have not been individually criticised. Carina has been awarded £30,000 in damages, the bulk of which comes from Carmarthenshire County Council and is held in trust for her.

 Ironically, if she had been wrongfully imprisoned by a miscarriage of justice due to false allegations about her, she would likely have been awarded more. However, the false allegations were against her parents and made by the 2 carers spelling out completely false allegations on a letter board while directing her finger to what they wanted her to "say".

For months Carmarthenshire County Council insisted that the disclosures were Carina's statements. Carina was a normal child until sudden illness caused brain damage giving her cerebral palsy and autism and robbing her of speech.  Her parents moved to Wales with her as Carmarthenshire was said to have excellent facilities for the education of such children. All of her social services assessments described her as a person with severe communication difficulties and she was assessed as having the comprehension of a young child, a person without adult capacity. At home she communicated with her mother using a letter board to express her basic needs, forming words and short sentences appropriate to the language of a young child. As her fine motor skills were limited, she needed  help to steady her wrist to move her finger between letters. This is called "facilitated communication" and has been misused to falsify communication in many cases. It is only recommended for home use and cannot be used as evidence in UK courts.

When Carina left school, it was suggested that carers take her to college and for other activities such as swimming. Two carers were allocated to her but there were problems. Money went missing . The carers claimed Carina had misbehaved and they changed her routine from the planned activities.

After 3 weeks of this. Carina's parents were not happy with the carers and her mother told them on a Friday that she would take Carina herself to college the following Monday in order to find out exactly what was going on.

 The 2 Carers then asked to take Carina swimming that day as planned,The Carers later claimed that Carina had immediately indicated to them that her parents were abusing her. In the changing rooms of the swimming pool and in the manner of an articulate adult she had disclosed that she was regularly beaten and raped by her father and, together with her mother, prostituted from their home and forced to have sex with number of strangers.

Carina's parents did not realise that the carers had found a laminated letter sheet used by Carina in her handbag and were now using it to accuse the couple of abusing their daughter and running a brothel. Carina did not come home. Social services told the parents to ask the police about why she was being kept away and it was some days before they found out about the allegations.

In the meantime Carmarthenshire Social Services had asked an Old Age Specialist Psychiatrist with no knowledge of learning difficulties or autism, Dr Rowan Williams,  to verify Carina's communication and status.

 It is a warning sign that FC is being misused when a subject suddenly becomes articulate and expressive at a level well above their assessed ability. Dr Rowan Wilson  believed what he was told by the social workers and supported the re classification of Carina as a competent adult having full legal capacity. This meant her parents now had no rights over her and she was kept in Ty Hendy care home, attended by the same carers who had made up the abuse story.

As the ombudsman later remarked, if social services had even googled "Facilitated Communication" they would have found that it has been discredited and should never have been relied on to take anyone into care or refer allegations to the police . However, the Council officers preferred to believe that they had a sensational case against her father, a local Plaid Cymru Councillor well known in the area.

Not a jot of evidence was found to support the abuse/brothel allegations despite a thorough look through the parental computers and a very detailed forensic search of the home. Carina was "interviewed" for hours by the police via her "carers" and even "retracted "the allegations several times. The police also did not seem to have any knowledge of the reputation of FC. However, finding no evidence they should have released the parents from police bail and dropped the threat of charges against them.  This social services log sheet below shows the request from Social Services to the police to keep the parents on bail to facilitate their Council's further investigations, in the hope that an expert, the renowned Professor Patricia Howlin, could finally prove that the carers were truly representing Carina's communication.

This telephone call [TC] logged by social worker Bethan Williams , first on the list above,  is an exchange between her superior, County Council Officer Anthony Maynard and police officer Detective Inspector Richard Jones.

"Anthony Maynard called DI Richard Jones to advise that the specialist assessments cannot be done until March. It will be impossible to extend the Burn's bail until that date.Therefore he will possibly shelf the case and once we get the evidence done in March, if it proves anything further and more evidence is obtained they can re-open the case.Richard Jones asked if I could find the emails Mr Burn has sent to us"

On 25th October, the couple had been informed by the police that there was no physical evidence of any wrongdoing after they had interviewed under caution, had their house searched and their computers examined. There was also evidence from the family doctor showing that there were other, medical  reasons the abuse could never have happened as claimed in the detail of the disclosures. After this the Burns were put on police bail to allow further investigation.

 Almost 3 months later the police were no further on and had no reason to keep the parents on police bail other than to facilitate the Social Services desperate attempts to prove that something had actually happened. At this point they all must have known, as the family's lawyers had informed them, on several occasions, that any evidence produced through FC (facilitated communication) would have been inadmissible anyway

.After this phone call the parents were kept on police bail which implied there was still ongoing police consideration of the case. They were prevented from visiting their daughter who allegedly communicated via her carers that she did not wish to see them. They suffered severe stress as their only information about Carina was second hand from relatives and visitors to other clients at Ty Hendy, who reported that Carina was distressed and causing difficulties at the residential  institution.

 In truth Carina was a person with learning difficulties and new, severe stress induced  behavioural problems due to being confined at Ty Hendy. She did not know where she was, why she was there,or  where her parents were? She was being prepared for a foster placement out of county where her "carers" who could "communicate" with her, would be employed to" support" her.

I would like to know why the police played this game of "shelving" the investigation but keeping the parents on police bail, in the hope that Social Services could find evidence the police could not and somehow overcome the judicial ruling on Facilitated Communication?  Why have the police assisted in a cover up to help social services? The parents were asking for a test of communication and would not have  objected to one if their daughter had been returned. They knew the allegations were untrue.

And who had any regard for the parents, or the young woman locked up and aware that she was being made to spell out things she did not understand or agree with, and was desperate to return to her family?
The communication test should surely have been done before any assessment of capacity, any police interviews and any decisions about Carina's future. Both parties, County Council and Dyfed Powys Police were made aware early on by the Burns and their lawyers of the dangers and limitations of facilitated communication. Perhaps the "scandalous goings on" described by the carers were more seductive than the public duty of care, common sense and proper procedure?

Siân Caiach,