The Pilkingtons, Disability Hate Crime and Responses

Independent Police Complaints Commission

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Yesterday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission published it’s report into the case of Fiona and Francecca Pilkington which I wrote about first in September 2009.

The Guardian has an article which highlights some of the main points but to sum up, Fiona and her daughter, Francecca, who was 18 but had severe learning disabilities were being abused and targeted in their local community.  In 2007, Fiona killed herself and Francecca and this was seen as a response to the desperate situation that she found herself in with her family being constantly targeted and bullied in her local community. Fiona contacted the police on multiple occasions between 2004-2007  regarding anti-social behaviour and reading the report, it seems to show that as well as her and her daughter being targeted, her son was also subject to relentless abuse and bullying by an ‘identified group of youths’.

Reading through the report it is possible to note the range of persistent targeting, not just of the Pilkingtons, it seems,  but of others in the local area by the same ‘identified group of youths’ and the scope of the report from the IPCC was to determine why no substantial action was taken to protect and support the Pilkingtons.

In some of the background information in the report, the situation is described as being one where Fiona lived with her son and her daughter – as well as a daughter who had profound learning disabilities, her son (who is not named) had special educational needs. Fiona’s mother had moved into the home to help her out and it is reported that Francecca was also known to social services and was allocated within a ‘transitions’ team as she moved from children’s services to adults services.

It is noted that Fiona was finding it increasingly difficult to manage Francecca’s behaviours as well as being targeted by the ‘identified group of youths’. These were the key issues that drove her to the murder/suicide.

Reading through the details of each complaint made is a lesson in the lives some people have to live when they are targeted like this in the local community. Fiona’s son seems to have been suffering particularly from relentless abuse and physical assaults and bullying at home and at school. Francecca is called names and obscene gestures are made towards her. There are frequent references to stones being thrown at the house and windows broken.

The report contains extracts from letters that Fiona wrote to her MP and to the Leicestershire Constabulary. She wrote

„she (Francecca) does sign language at her school … so the yobs stick their fingers up at her‟.

„I cannot give my children the freedom of going up the street to the shops as I cannot be sure they‟ll be safe. I do my shopping at the weekend so I don‟t have to use the streets available shops when children are at home after school, during holidays‟.

One of the policemen responded in the inquiry that

he was never aware of the stress or anxiety the issues Fiona Pilkington raised in her letter were causing her. He says whenever he did see her he never got the impression she was a manic depressive, she was always bubbly and chatty and always had a little giggle and none of her behaviour rang any alarm bells with him. PC „A‟ said he got the impression Fiona Pilkington was quite feisty and if there were people outside, she wouldn’t have had a problem opening the doors and telling them to “do one”.

No action was taken when the incidents continued

One incident which did warrant a harassment order occurred when  Fiona’s son (who is referred to as being 13 in 2004) was pushed into a  shed at knifepoint and was locked in for a ‘few hours’.  She also states that her son had been (at this point) bullied at school for 8 years and mentions that the school were taking no action.

The report highlights that the pattern of abuse had built up significantly by this point and enough for the police to have established a pattern. The report goes on to detail every incident and response taken and how it could have taken place in a different way. It’s a long report.

What seems to be clear is that this anti-social behaviour in every sense of the word and that lack of protection or response towards the Pilkington’s has been seen to be inadequate.

I have been involved in a few different cases over the years where harassment and targeting have been problems in communities – although never at the level which is described in this report.

It happens. It does tend to happen more in areas where there is poverty and high unemployment. It happens when people do not perceive others as ‘the same’ or they see ‘easy targets’. Yes, educational programmes can take place which can help us all to learn about non-discrimination but I’m sure the people who are most option to the softer approaches would be those less likely to discriminate in the first place.

One of the points that the report makes is that the linking of this consistent abuse was not classified as  a ‘hate crime’ and the police have specific procedures when dealing with ‘hate crime’ including a referral to a specific department/officer who would have been able to assist in coordination of an approach.  Disability discrimination may well be forgotten as the perceptions of ‘benefit scroungers’ spreads through the media and government press releases.

A couple of other  points I picked up on, apart from the procedural errors in the way the police dealt with the series of complaints. I do wonder where social services fit into this. Not that they would be held responsible but in terms of providing support to Fiona as a carer and in providing some kind of network or advocacy in dealing with the police or pushing the police towards action. I don’t know the set up but I know I have chased (not literally!) up reports about anti-social behaviour when they have been discussed with me both with the local community police officers and the local housing office.

The local housing office, that’s the other agency that seems to be absent although the bounds of this report are limited and they may very well have been working hard behind the scenes but all the ‘identified group of youths’ were tenants of social housing. Pilkington was an owner occupier. I know that anti-social behaviour can potentially put a tenancy at risk and you might think in the list that is compiled this could have been considered. Maybe it was and we don’t know about it – to be fair.

While the ‘No Secrets’ guidance is referenced in the report, it is discounted from being the appropriate procedure to take as Francecca would have only turned 18 in 2006 and the scope of the guidance ‘would not have been relevant’.

I am curious about this – the age, of course, is a relevant issue but it seems to fall within the bounds of things that I would have considered as Safeguarding in the past – and currently.

There does seem to need to be firstly a shoring up of multi-agency working.

These incidents were not recognised as  a ‘hate crime’ which they should have been as a main reason for the initial targeting was disability-related.

I worry about a lot of things when I read this report though. I worry about the limits that we are bound to regarding what support we sometimes can and can’t provide. Fiona tried to be a strong advocate for her children and her voice was increasingly taken from her when she was not provided with the assistance and support she should have received from statutory agencies. I worry about the amount of support (or rather the lack of it) that is offered to carers who can come under increasing stress and I don’t see this getting any better in the ‘new world’ as local authorities increasingly take an even more ‘hands off’ approach to provision of care.

I hope the police will be able to implement stronger responses to hate crimes in all senses but particularly pick up on disability related hate crime as a separate and specific offence but also, I hope that those in the government and who rumble on about ‘big society’ and ‘importance of community’ learn to understand that not all communities are as supportive and helpful as they might be in Cameron’s dreams.

Volunteering one day a year might ease the conscience of Cabinet members and make them feel good about themselves but walking a day or two in the lives of people like Fiona Pilkington and reading through the IPPC report might teach them a lot more about what needs to be done to create a better and more cohesive society. It isn’t just about volunteering. It’s about creating hope, work and dignity for both those who need support in the community but also those who might otherwise grow up in poverty and seek to target those who are different because their own life experiences are so poor.

Will any Cabinet Minister volunteer their one day to work with the youths living on Bardon Road in Barwell where the Pilkingtons lived? No? That’s where they should be going.  That’s where the work needs to be done. On Bardon Road and on Bardon Roads throughout the country.

We need to learn from the deaths of Fiona and Francecca. We need to make a better societies and better communities and that can’t be done by brushing things that are less palatable under the proverbial carpet.

Chasing Housing

I try to avoid contact with Housing as much as possible. It comes very close to the  ‘hello, head – meet brick wall’ kind of scenario. I know they are very busy and all  but sometimes it seems like every conversation turns into a battle. Even relatively mundune ones.

I could write reams about some of the ‘firmer’ discussions I have had with my colleagues in the Housing department. Whenever I am asked to ‘push a housing application along’ I run scared – actually I explain the brutal and honest truth – namely that I have no influence whatsoever on housing applications and although I can sometimes make a phone call or two it doesn’t really have a massive effect.

Except in some occasions. I have been following through with Mrs S because she lives with her son and his family. They are moving to Australia en masse in a few months and she isn’t. So she needs somewhere to live.

We are looking at sheltered accommodation as she doesn’t really have any physical care needs. It is actually plain and simple (if it ever is) about having a roof over her head. Obviously though, it would be anxiety-ridden at the best of times and these aren’t the best of times for her.

image terren in Virginia @ flickr

She completed the forms herself and submitted them to the relevant department but had heard nothing. She asked me to make a few calls. I agreed with my usual reticence.

The first call was to confirm the receipt of the supporting documents she had sent with proof of identity, residency etc. They were all present and correct when I called.

Still no word after a couple of months. She called me a couple of weeks ago beginning to panic a little with the lack of response. I made another call or two but this time didn’t manage to speak to anyone directly and rather left a string of messages which, unsurprisingly, weren’t returned.

I knew her forms hadn’t been received by the person who manages the sheltered housing applications (because I phoned her direct as we have had a fair few conversations over the years) and I knew the forms had been received by the housing department so somewhere we needed to bridge this gap.

A couple of days ago and no returned call my righteous indignation levels are rising dangerously high. I called the housing number and was told their computers were down and the only named person with whom I was dealing ‘didn’t take telephone calls’. So I did the only thing I know what to do in those circumstances and asked for a string of email addresses, line manager by line manager, up to the Assistant Director level.

And I pieced  together an email detailing all my contacts and attempted contacts, with the housing department relating to this particular case. I detailed the messages I had left, the emails I had written over the months – all of which had been unanswered.

I copied into the email the named person with whom I had been dealing. I thought that was only fair. As well as his manager.

I got the ‘undelivered mail’ message back seconds after hitting ‘send’. I had been given the wrong spelling of the manager of the team’s email address. I’d like to think it was unintentional but at least the addressee himself knew I was more than a little peeved and willing to take this as far up as it needed to go.

Actually his response angered me more. He thanked me for my email – explained that no, he didn’t take telephone calls any more – and that as Mrs S met all the criteria for sheltered housing, he would see she was put on that list immediately. Mission accomplished.

My reply (with manager’s name spelt correctly this time) was somewhat terse in substance though. Basically, explaining that if she met the criteria now, she would also have met the criteria two months ago when all the documentation was sent. She has been ‘off’ the list for two months for no reason at all and had I not sent that email on that day – she would have remained off the list although everything had been completed exactly according to their procedures and all the correct documents had been sent.

She’ll be fine now though. There is enough time for a property to show up and I’m pretty confident she’ll be housed.

My worry related to how many other people might be thinking they are on the waiting list when, in fact, they aren’t because there isn’t anyone ranting and raving and copying all their email correspondence in to the managers of the rehousing team when they don’t get satisfactory responses.

That makes me furious.

8 deaths – 10 days

I’m back to one of my least favourite topics today. Southern Cross Healthcare. And yes, the headline just about says it all.

Crown Nursing Home in Harwell, Oxfordshire is a small 16 bedded nursing care home which was run by Trinity Care – bought out by Southern Cross in 2002. It has a good inspection report.

Now, I don’t want to be unreasonable or unrealistic. People who live in nursing homes, by the very nature of the care, have high needs and people die when they become old. It happens. I imagine the death rate in nursing homes is substantially higher than that in the general population and I’d get no statistics or mathematics prizes for making that assumption.

But for half of the homes’ residents, namely, 8 people, to die in a 10 day period between January 9th and January 25th. Well, that is something that I’ve not come across in the years that I have been working with and around care homes.

The BBC report that

Eight pensioners died from “chest-related illnesses”

And a spokesman for Southern Cross says

“These were as a result of individual chest-related illnesses. All regulatory authorities are aware of the deaths and there is no concern over the cause of each death.

“The average age of each resident was 93-years-old and all had been happily living in the home for some years.

“Management at the home have evaluated their infection control procedures, which were of the highest standard, and are reviewing newly issued NHS guidelines.”

And with no knowledge at all of chest-related illnesses except a very cursory one. I think with an average age of 93, cold weather and chest illnesses there is a possible line there for the home to take.

It still seems more than a little uncanny to me.

The Mail offers a little more explanation

Half of the residents at a 16-bed care home died when they contracted ‘chest-related illnesses’ after being left without central heating for up to ten days.

The eight pensioners all died over two weeks shortly after the heating system at their home failed around Christmas.

Last night the son of a woman of 93 who was among the dead, accused the home’s owners, Southern Cross Healthcare, of responsibility for the deaths after it took up to ten days to have the fault fixed.

Now that, at least, offers a bit more plausibility to the story. Especially in conjunction with the story from a couple of weeks back at another Southern Cross Home where the heating allegedly failed with tragic results.

And the Mail have a statement from the Southern Cross spokesman again – he’s quite busy, clearly

A spokesman for Southern Cross Healthcare insisted: ‘The central heating broke down on Boxing Day.

‘Temporary heaters were made available and at no time did temperatures fall below the recommended level.’

The nursing home, which charges fees of £721-£760 per week, was rated ‘good’ by the CSCI at its most recent inspection

So are they honestly claiming that there is no link between broken heating and an uncommon amount of chest infections. I’m no doctor, maybe someone who is can comment with authority, but to me, it just doesn’t sit right.

The home manager, according to the local press, said pneumonia was the cause of death for all the residents, but the Southern Cross spokesman (again) seems to contradict her, as he

said pneumonia was only registered as the cause of death in six cases and instead pointed to “chest-related illnesses”.

The PCT has been very measured in the statement that it has given to a local newspaper

An Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust spokesman said: “The PCT is not aware of an evidenced pneumonia outbreak within Oxfordshire. We cannot speculate as to the cause of the deaths at the Crown Nursing Home, which is a private provider of care services.”

And the local social services have said that

The county council is not aware of any widespread problem with pneumonia in Oxfordshire.”

I am sure that the standard of care by the staff on the ground was good, that’s certainly what the families seem to indicate – but – issues of maintenance of buildings seems to have come up more than once and I admit that this is pure speculation – I wonder if any pressures have been put to save money in areas such as boiler maintenance or emergency central heating repairs.  Surely, this is some kind of corporate responsibility for people who need to be assured of warm, safe buildings and properties particularly throughout the winter.

As a layperson, but knowing that Southern Cross own a considerable amount of real estate, I’d have thought they might see fit to make sure it is at a good state of repair as the opposite can have massive effects.

Again, I had to dig around a bit for the details of this story. I’m amazed it hasn’t been more widely reported. And saddened to be honest. Each time I see one of these stories, I am plain saddened.