Lasting shame of disabled girl ‘left to waste away’

The treatment of a severely disabled teenager on St Helena “should be a matter of lasting shame” to the island’s government, the Wass Inquiry report has declared.

She had been “left to waste away” at Barn View Residential Unit at Longwood.

The report places the blame on a succession of governors – and managers including Claire Gannon, the social worker whose claims against St Helena Government were dismissed by the inquiry.

She was had direct responsibility for Barn View.

The case of “Adult M” became public in April 2015 when Judge Charles Ekins denounced three unnamed hospital trusts in the UK for refusing to take her as a patient.

Adult M was born in 1996 with a severe degenerative brain disorder, disjointed arms, an arched spine, and legs that splay out at the knees, meaning she has to lie down most of the time.

She can barely communicate. She also has epilepsy and a skin condition.

But apart from medical treatment in South Africa in 2000, “there is no evidence that she received any medical treatment for her complex needs.

“She had literally been left to waste away in Barn View Residential Unit on St Helena.

“No medical treatment or equipment was arranged.” She was left in the care of two unqualified social care staff.

Sasha Wass said the Lucy Faithfull Foundation described Barn View as “dark and cold, smelling of urine and plagued by flies”.

The present and past governors had all been “given ample warning of the plight of disabled people on the island”, says the Wass report – citing a DFID adviser’s findings dated March 2002.

It says Governor Capes visited Barn View at Christmas 2011 to present staff with a cake.

He later told the inquiry panel: “What impressed me was the level of care and the atmosphere of the place then was very very good.”

Sasha Wass says: “The Inquiry Panel was unanimously at a loss to explain how the governor could have come to this conclusion.”

Months after the governor’s visit, a police safeguarding report to St Helena Government describing some rooms in Barn View as “akin to those of solitary confinement in prison films: stark, cold and despairing.”

Adult M has since been placed under the protection of the Supreme Court and transferred to the UK for treatment.

The Wass report says a Barn View and the new Ebony View must be overseen by a trained social worker, visiting at least twice a week.

“It is totally unacceptable that untrained and unqualified carers have been made to take full responsibility for the failings in those establishments.

“Given the shocking physical condition and obvious pain experienced by Adult M, the inquiry panel tried to ascertain why there was no record of her having been treated by a doctor for all those years.

“The blame for this must lie with several previous governors, not just Governor Capes. This was an institutional failure by the St Helena Government.”

At the press conference held by St Helena Government to respond to the report, chief secretary Roy Burke acknowledged bad conditions at Barn View. It had closed for refurbishment.

The Wass report said: “Adult M’s case should be a matter of lasting shame to the St Helena Government.”

  • Conditions at the government’s Challenging Behaviour Unit in Half Tree Hollow – which has since shut down – were described as being “about as bad as it gets” by Claire Gannon’s successor, Samantha Dunn. She told the Wass Inquiry: “To see people sleeping in outside cells is shock enough. I knew the unit was moving but it was quite a shock.” In a letter to The Sentinel, health director David Jenkins condemned the St Helena Independent for making conditions at the CBU public. He failed to acknowledge severe criticisms of conditions.
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