Tory council shuts old people's home despite legal moves

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Social Services Correspondent

In the face of opposition from relatives and residents, a Conservative council is closing an old people's home today and moving out pensioners despite continuing legal proceedings.

Wandsworth council in south London has already started removing residents from George Potter House, Battersea, to another home, although solicitors are seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords to keep the home open.

Wandsworth council plans to sell of all its homes and commission residential care from private homes. Lawyers for the residents argue they should have choice about where they live.

This view is reinforced by a letter sent by John Bowis, the junior health minister and Tory MP for Battersea, to Tom Cox, Labour MP for nearby Tooting, which said local authorities "must take into account fully the welfare and wishes of residents and staff" when considering closures.

Even though the legal outcome is pending, on Monday the council began moving residents. Yesterday the daughter of one resident said she had to threaten legal action to stop her 95-year-old mother being moved against her will. She said her mother was so confused when asked if she agreed to being moved she thought she was going back to her own home.

Another witness described how an 85-year-old resident who did not want to move had her belongings packed and was being transported in a mini- bus to another home. She clung to a handrail in the bus, crying in distress "why me?"

Today Wandsworth council social service officials intend to close the home officially and move all who have not positively refused permission to another home. The rest have been told they can stay in one section of the home while the rest is boarded up.

Lawyers representing some residents of George Potter House have been fighting closure in the courts and last week the Court of Appeal decided that councils do not have a duty to provide an element of local authority provision.

On Monday the Wandsworth law centre, which is representing residents, petitioned the House of Lords to seek leave to appeal.

But Wandsworth council is still moving people out. A spokesman said: "We are continuing to move people, but no one is being moved expressly against their will."

Asked if all residents and their relatives had been told they did not have to move and they could choose to stay, the spokesman said: " I am sure staff are acting with the utmost sensitivity."

Kate Pritchard, a Labour member of the social services committee, said: "Before the question of George Potter House was considered by the Court of Appeal we asked the council, in view of the frailty of the residents, not to move them with undue haste."

"Unfortunately the council has disregarded this request. They are attempting to move residents against relatives' wishes, against the residents' own wishes and despite the fact that, in law, the future of George Potter House is still undecided."

Wandsworth also courted controversy last week by becoming the first local authority to hand over all its children's homes to be run on contract by Shaftesbury Homes, a voluntary organisation.