Protecting Adults

A quick comment about this story about a couple with learning disabilities who were awarded damages of £100,000 against Hounslow Council which was subsequently withdrawn from them following an appeal.

They had been victimised over a period of time by local ‘youths’ who had been using their home as some kind of ‘safe house’ in which to take drugs and store stolen property.

Judges ruled Hounslow Council was not negligent in failing to look after the couple, who have learning disabilities…

The judges said they had “every sympathy” for the family, but the council was not responsible.

It was a groundbreaking initial judgement made back in May 2008 because Hounslow were charged with not adequately protecting vulnerable adults.

A social worker had told police the vulnerable pair were being exploited, but was informed that no action could be taken unless the couple complained themselves.

The council employee had also called for the couple to be rehoused.

Lawyers for the couple argued the social worker should have realised they were in danger and had them moved.

Hounslow Council took their case to the Appeal Court which ruled the council had no duty of care to the couple.

Sir Anthony Clarke, who headed the appeal judges, said: “There is an important difference between a case where children assert that a duty of care is owed to them and a case like this where the claimants are adults living in the community, albeit vulnerable adults.”

This really sums up the difficulty with the Safeguarding Adults procedures as they are at present. Adults, however vulnerable or lacking of capacity, are treated by the law in exactly the same respect all adults are – namely being responsible for pressing charges and for giving evidence in court in order to bring any kind of prosecution.

I actually have sympathy for the social worker in this case because our hands are very much tied. ‘Having people moved’ is not a straightforward process – unless perhaps we are considering residential or more supported housing. I have had exactly a similar argument with an older adult where she was exploited in her home and we were asked to consider residential care. This is a woman who would by no means be considering any kind of residential care placement if it weren’t for the exploitation but because there were difficulties relating to taking the matter to court to deal with the perpetrator, we were left with the option of her having to move out of the home she had lived in comfortably for 20 years into a more supported setting, simply to make her safe.

It makes me angry that we have to remove people from homes when it is others that are creating the difficulties around them.

I can only hope that situations like this highlight and inform the current debate about needing new and more effective legal mechanisms to protect vulnerable adults in the community.