Mother pleads for help in ending autistic son’s seven-year incarceration

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Disabled activists and academics have called for the release of an autistic man with learning difficulties who has been held in locked mental health institutions for seven years, against his and his family’s wishes.

The case of Eden Norris (pictured, with his mother and sister) was highlighted at the parliamentary launch of a new online educational resource, which itself focuses on how tens of thousands of people with learning difficulties were locked away in long-stay hospitals through much of the twentieth century.

The website tells the story of disabled campaigner and self-advocate Mabel Cooper, who was institutionalised in the 1950s, and kept in long-stay hospitals for more than 30 years, as a result of bogus assessments of her IQ.

The launch event – part of UK Disability History Month – heard from Norris’s disabled mother, Deborah Evans, from west London, who described how her son had been held in so-called assessment and treatment units for the last seven years, and was being treated “abysmally”.

He is currently at the privately-owned Cawston Park Hospital, in Norwich, having been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and she said he was often kept chemically-sedated.

Evans has found service-providers willing to support him to live near her in the community, but their local council has refused to give the go-ahead for him to leave Cawston Park.

She is only able to visit him every two weeks, which means a 13-hour round trip.

Before he was taken to Norwich, Norris was kept for five years in an adult forensic unit in Watford, from the age of 17, even though he has no criminal record.

His mother told the event: “He wants to come out, he wants his own flat. It’s just so cruel, this system.”

His family have pointed out that keeping him at Cawston Park is hugely lucrative for the company that runs the unit, the Jeesal Group. At one stage, his care was costing £12,000 per week.

He was originally admitted voluntarily because he wanted help for anxiety, as a result of a lack of support in the care home where he was living, but he was later sectioned after episodes of “challenging behaviour”.

When his family tried to take him home, they say, Hammersmith and Fulham council threatened to remove all of his care and support.

And his family say the hospital obstructs their efforts to keep in touch with him, particularly when they raise his case publicly.

Perry Collins, Evans’ partner, said the idea that he was dangerous was ridiculous.

Every time they visit him, they take him shopping, and to a restaurant, a bowling alley and a nightclub (he loves “drum and bass” music).

Collins said: “Eden is not dangerous, he’s autistic. They are using his disability to make money.

“He cries, ‘Mum, bring me home. Get me home,’ on the phone. How many other people is this happening to?”

Tricia Nicoll, a disabled activist and an independent consultant, said the case “should be flashing alarm bells” on the desk of the council officer responsible for commissioning his support.

She said: “There was a horrible honesty to long-stay hospitals. Nobody tried to hide it. People knew they were there.

“It was an honest awfulness, yet there is a horrible dishonesty about this, with private companies beholden to their shareholders making a lot of money to keep people incarcerated and make their lives completely s**t.”

Jan Walmsley, visiting professor in the history of learning disabilities at The Open University, and a health and social care consultant, said authorities were “misusing” the Mental Capacity Act to justify keeping people like Eden in detention and to “keep parents at bay”. 

She invited Evans to speak at the parliamentary event to highlight how people with learning difficulties were still being wrongly detained in institutions, just as Mabel Cooper had been.

Hammersmith and Fulham council said it could not comment because the case was “so complex”.

Cawston Park had not responded to a request for a comment by 11am today (Thursday).

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