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LONDON COUNCIL DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR 'WRECKED' LIFE OF AUTISTIC MAN

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An autistic man who claims his life has been wrecked by a London council's failure to educate him properly was toda...
An autistic man who claims his life has been wrecked by a London council's failure to educate him properly was today battling for massive damages.

The 23-year-old's schooldays were marked by a catalogue of expulsions and repeated failure - and he is now compulsorily detained in a mental hospital - his counsel, Anthony Phillips, told London's High Court.

It was all teachers could do to 'contain' him and, in what was a nightmare for his long-suffering family, Greenwich LBC failed to assess, diagnose or provide for his special needs, the barrister added.

Instead, he descended into a spiral of ever more disturbed behaviour, culminating in him pleading guilty to a string of arson offences in 2001 and being sent to a mental hospital.

Mr Phillips told the court the man, referred to in court only as 'D', was recognised as an 'unusual' child from his first days at nursery school and was given special educational support from an early stage.

When he was aged seven he suffered a fractured skull in a road accident and the barrister said it was 'debatable' to what extent that may have worsened his difficulties.

After he moved on to primary school, his behaviour continued to regress both in the classroom and at home and, by 1990, Mr Phillips said his 'very complex' special needs were 'abundantly apparent'.

An educational psychologist reported on him, but the barrister said that had been 'woefully inadequate' and failed to recognise that he was 'not simply a child with emotional and behavioural difficulties'.

He was eventually expelled from his junior school and sent to a school specialising in children with emotional and behavioural problems.

But Mr Phillips said that was a 'bad choice' for a youngster suffering from Asperger's Syndrome who was particularly vulnerable and prone to teasing and bullying by other pupils.

Arguing he should never have been sent there, he said: 'The general picture was of gradually deteriorating behaviour and o f failure to learn. His social difficulties were obvious'.

Asperger's Syndrome was finally diagnosed in 1992 and, after he was excluded from the school for five days in 1994 following an attack on a teacher, he refused to return there.

Despite his increasingly erratic behaviour, his family struggled to educate him at home - he missed seven terms of formal education - whilst the council decided where he should go next.

Although he clearly needed 'specialist provision', Greenwich showed 'no sense of urgency' and was 'dilatory to the point of negligence' in their efforts to find him a new school, claimed Mr Phillips.

Meanwhile, he continued to live at home 'to the increasing despair and, indeed, danger to his parents, brother and sister'.

Mr Phillips said it was only in June 1995 that the council 'came up with any constructive suggestion' and, in September 1996, he was eventually sent to a specialist residential school in Devon.

But, before that, he had been taken into care by the council after he attacked his father and, between November 1995 and September 1996, was 'accommodated in a series of short term crisis placements including a psychiatric unit for adolescents'.

Mr Phillips added: 'His behaviour was by now so bad that most of these placements ended with his being thrown out'.

Once at the Devon school, he appeared to make 'rapid progress' to begin with, but 'yet again his behaviour caused him to be thrown out'.

He returned to live with his mother, but the strain was too much for her and, in late 2001, he was arrested and charged with three counts of arson to which he later pleaded guilty.

He continues to be compulsorily detained in a psychiatric unit although an application to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for his release is now pending.

Mr Phillips told Judge Sean Overend: 'He was recognised from his earliest days in school as being a boy with very complex educational needs.

'Apart from his time at the scho ol in Devon, those needs were never properly addressed by the council.

'It had, by 1990, become quite apparent that he could not succeed in a mainstream school but sending him to the school (for children with emotional and behaviour difficulties) was quite the wrong decision.

'He should never have gone there and he should have received specialist tuition which, of necessity, would have been residential, from the age of 10 or so.'

He argued the council's 'educational negligence' was a 'substantial cause of his present predicament'.

'Greenwich, by their administrators, were guilty of gross delay between May 1994 and September 1996, in identifying suitable provision for him and in failing to provide him with any education for more than two years'.

Greenwich LBC denies liability in the case which is expected to continue for at least four days.

STRND NEWS SERVICE

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