I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I would write on this, my adopted #107 days. The day itself has huge significance. It is Mother’s Day in the UK. Mums all over the country will be receiving cards, hugs and kisses from their children but there is one household I know of, and God knows, there will be thousands of others, where a mum will not receive anything from one of her children. And I can’t really imagine the pain of that scenario.
Connor Sparrowhawk was an 18 year old man with a great capacity for joy and his nickname was Laughing Boy. Sometime in early 2013, Connor was having a hard time of it emotionally, as many teenagers do at that time. His family were worried about him and they sought help from the NHS. He was admitted to an NHS assessment and treatment unit. At this point you need to know he was a young man with autism and epilepsy. His family had lovingly brought him up, catering to his needs and giving him a good, solid home where he had the love of his siblings and the dog, Chunky Stan. Going into an assessment unit was, they all thought, a good move. To be able to assess what was happening with Connor and then to treat him so he could go home and continue with his life.
What can I say about Connor himself? I never met him but so wish I had. He was clearly a very funny and witty young man because many a time I’ve laughed out loud at the things his mother, Sara, has written about him. He was not a faceless boy even though we had never met in the flesh. He had depth, he had character and he had passions. Eddie Stobart, lorries, buses and the Mighty Boosh. He was such a real person to me that I took photos of lorries I saw in motorway car parks and sent them to his mother so she could pass them on. So please, before you read any further just take in this one point. Connor Sparrowhawk was a real, living, breathing, laughing young man with the rest of his life stretched out before him.
His time in the unit was not a picnic. He was deemed to be an adult and therefore his parents and family could only visit if he agreed. Asking a direct question to someone like Connor was not always helpful as he was not always in the place where he could give a direct answer. Like “Yes! I want to see my mum”. His younger brother, Tom, was not allowed to visit because staff said under 16s were not allowed on the unit. If I told you that was a lie, what would you think? If I told you the unit had been inspected 2 years previous to Connor being admitted and that they had failed the inspection, what would you think? The report said it had ‘serious concerns’ about some of the practices being carried out, one in particular being their methods of restraint. If I now tell you Connor was restrained on several occasions whilst being in the unit, how do you feel now? If I tell you there was an inspection just two months before Connor’s admission on the basis of it being a centre of ‘good practice’ and that the inspectors were horrified by what they found, what do you think? If I told you staff did not supervise Connor when he had a bath and that he had an epileptic fit and drowned, what would you say? And that there was not even a policy on epilepsy, even though it is common for people with learning disabilities to have epilepsy. And this is a Unit for young people with learning disabilities. He was there just 107 days. Our collective jaws, surely, are on the floor right now.
When I saw the status on Facebook that this beautiful, intriguing and funny young man had died, I was stunned. And I cried. How could this happen? Well, sadly, we can see how this has happened. A catalogue of falsifications, neglect and shoddiness labelled ‘care’ followed by attempts to pass his death off as ‘natural causes’ and more wriggling than a bucket of eels.
I would invite you to imagine this were your son, daughter, partner or parent but I suspect you’re ahead of me on this one. As a mum, I am always looking out for my pride, my pack. Not in a paranoid way, but just keeping mental and emotional tabs on them. And at the drop of a hat, I’ll be there to fight for them, soothe, snarl at transgressors because that’s my job. So I find it really hard to put myself in Sara’s place today. She has lost one of her pride and the pain must be unendurable. Connor’s death was totally preventable.
I really have not done justice to Connor or his mum, Sara, but I would urge you to go and check out her blog to see what this fierce lioness has been doing lately. She is fighting for Connor like there is no tomorrow.
And I don’t know if Connor ever heard this track but if he did, I like to think it would be one that he would enjoy.