Pensioner 'held prisoner' by local council wins legal victory

69-year-old was trapped against her will and given no opportunity to appeal, court hears

A pensioner who was “held prisoner” by a local authority won a legal victory when the council admitted violating her human rights.

In a landmark case, the court heard that Knowsley Council applied for a court order to keep her incarcerated in a psychiatric home without even consulting her or her family.

For months the 69-year-old felt trapped in the home against her will, largely unable to communicate with other residents or see her husband, isolated and desperate to leave.

“I was held prisoner, it’s as simple as that,” said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons. “Even though it’s been months since I was able to come home, I still can’t sleep. I’m constantly worried that they’re going to take me away again.”

On Thursday, Mr Justice Peter Jackson approved an order in the Court of Protection in Manchester in which Knowsley Council admitted violating the vulnerable woman’s right to a fair trial as well as her right to liberty and right to a family life.

“Throughout my time of practicing law in the Court of Protection, this is the first time I have experienced a case where a local authority has been found by admission to have violated someone’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said solicitor Mark McGhee, a specialist in Human Rights and Community Law issues who took up the case after being contacted by her family.

The court heard that the woman, who was diagnosed with dementia which she strenuously denies, was initially detained under the Mental Health Act after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital in November 2011 and transferred to a secure home. When the detention order was due to expire six months later, the council applied to have it extended without giving her an opportunity to put forward a case that her condition had improved.

“The home where my client was placed was a locked environment,” said Mr McGhee of Fentons Solicitors. “My client’s detention was due to expire on 24 May. At that time my client was fully expecting to be able to return to her own home. However, unbeknownst to her a decision was made – without any input from her, her family or her advocate – where the council determined that they would apply to the Court of Protection to extend her stay at the home.”

She was eventually released two months later after the authority agreed to carry out further assessments of her mental capacity, said Mr McGhee: “Of course, she passed these with flying colours and immediately the council began to change its stance.”

Knowsley Council accepted that its conduct had fallen short of the standards required under the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice and the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, and that it lacked appropriate regard for due process. It has agreed to pay the woman £6,000 in compensation.

Lawyers said that a separate civil claim is now pending for psychological damage sustained during her incarceration and they would be asking for the case to be referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for an investigation into the Council and its actions.

Yesterday a spokesperson for Knowsley Council said: “We have accepted that procedural errors were made. We very much regret this and we have apologised for this... we will be carrying out a full review to ensure that this will not happen again.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test