A councillor who won re-election despite having to apologise for suggesting disabled children should be “put down” to save money has told Disability News Service (DNS) he believes there is a good argument for killing some disabled babies.
Colin Brewer apologised and resigned as an independent member of Cornwall Council in February after his original comments became public, but decided to stand again and won re-election to the ward of Wadebridge East by just four votes in last week’s elections.
Now, in an interview with DNS, he has spoken at length for the first time on what he really thinks about the cost of funding disabled children’s care and support, at a time when mainstream services such as toilets, leisure centres, and the maintenance of coastal paths, are at risk from the government’s austerity programme.
In the interview, Brewer repeatedly indicated that he believed there was a good argument for killing some disabled babies with high support needs, because of the cost of providing them with services.
Disability Cornwall, the disabled people’s organisation to which he made the comment that led to his original resignation – at a council equality and diversity event in October 2011 – has been shown a transcript of the interview.
A Disability Cornwall spokesman said that, if the comments were accurate, they were “frightening”, and showed that his original apology was prompted “not by any genuine regret, but in fact by his own self-serving political ambitions”.
Brewer is currently on sick leave from his duties as a councillor, because of medication he is taking for a long-term health condition.
His poor health meant he was not at County Hall in Truro this week while a demonstration of about 70 people against his re-election was taking place outside the building.
Brewer tried in the telephone interview with DNS to justify the comment he made in 2011. He said he had had a series of strokes before the incident, which might explain why he “flared up”, and he added: “People have said I have changed since those strokes.”
But he also explained why he had raised the issue of the cost of supporting disabled children, in the comment he made to a member of Disability Cornwall staff.
He said: “I had just been to a council meeting which was discussing finance. When you are talking about having to close toilets, facilities for everyone, and perhaps the coastal footpath for everyone, then I have got to question individual budgets to individual people.”
He added: “People are not on this earth for very long. My main concern is planning and environmental [issues] and landscape. In that context, people are just transient. I have heard of terrific amounts of money being spent on specific individuals.”
He did call for more facilities for disabled people to be built in Cornwall, to save the cost of sending them to expensive out-of-area placements, and also praised the move away from the use of “massive institutions” for people with mental health conditions.
But he then compared the £250,000 that it would cost to keep 10 public toilets open with similar sums paid out to support just one disabled person.
When asked if he sometimes found it difficult to see some of the large personal budgets given to individual disabled people, he said: “I don’t sit on any health committees, but it is a concern. It is not only a concern of mine.”
Brewer insisted that he was a Christian, and believed that “all life is precious”. But he then told DNS that a retired doctor had walked up to him two weeks ago and told him that he was “perfectly right” to have said what he said in 2011.
Brewer added: “Presumably it would depend on the degree of the disablement. I knew him. I was an acquaintance in the past. He is a medical man. He knows his business, presumably.”
When DNS asked whether that meant there was some truth in what the doctor was saying, he said: “If that is what he said, there must be.”
He also spoke about a farmer in his ward who had approached him about his comments, and made it clear that he “didn’t see a lot wrong with what I said, because it is something they do every day”.
Brewer said: “If they have a misshapen lamb, they get rid of it. They get rid of it. Bang!”
He added: “He’s certainly got a point. We are just animals. He’s obviously got a point… You can’t have lambs running around with five legs and two heads.”
When DNS asked if he believed there was not much difference between putting down a lamb and a child with two heads, he said: “I think the cost has got to be evaluated. It is not something I would like to do but there is only so much in the bucket.
“If you are talking about giving services to the community or services to the individual, the balance has got to be struck.”
Asked if he believed it might be kinder to kill a child with two heads, he replied: “Is that one child or two? I would hope that, although I don’t like the idea of it, long before it is born that this problem is [dealt with] and it will probably be aborted in some way.”
When asked what should happen if the child was not killed, he said: “Then if it wasn’t, then, well, what happens?”
When reminded that the lamb would be put down in that situation, he agreed, and said: “It [the lamb] would be put down, smashed against the wall and be dealt with.”
And asked if a child with a similar impairment should be killed after birth, he said: “That would be up to the decision of whoever is there at the birth.”
When asked by DNS whether there might be a good argument for killing a disabled child with high support needs, because it would free up more resources for the wider community, he said: “I am not making that judgment. There may be a case. I haven’t a clue how much they cost.
“When people complain to me about the state of our finances, I say, ‘well, we can’t afford to do it.’ We might be forced to close our beaches. That’s a service to us all. It is a dilemma and it is going to get increasingly a problem with budget cuts.”
Asked again whether there was therefore a good argument for killing some disabled children with high support needs in order to save money, he said: “Yes. That is why I keep as far away from health in the council as I can.”
Brewer said that “complete strangers” had come up to him in recent weeks and shaken his hand, which “made me feel that I am not the ogre that I have been painted”.
He also said that he had concerns about the “burden” of disabled people who are left to rely on council services after their parents die.
He said: “Who shoulders the burden after they have looked after them for so many years?”
After DNS shared a transcript of the interview with Disability Cornwall, a spokesperson for the organisation said: “If the contents of this conversation are true, it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the apology offered by Cllr Brewer was prompted, not by any genuine regret, but in fact by his own self-serving political ambitions.
“It is sadly no surprise to us that his views are echoed by others, but it’s particularly frightening these views may be held by those who have the positions and power to make life and death decisions.
“It is a sad indictment of our so-called ‘civilised’ society that disabled children are increasingly discussed within a context of affordability, as if they were goods on a shelf that can be picked up and discarded at will, dependent upon what’s in the public purse.
“Colin Brewer and others, it would appear, believe a disabled child has the same value as a deformed lamb and should be dealt with in the same way.”
9 May 2013