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.”