I am so coldly, rigidly, white knuckled angry, that at 3am I still can’t sleep.
The cause of my anger is an article, so poorly researched, so sensationalist, so, so utterly, incompetently wrong, written by a ‘Whitehall Editor’ – one of that breed of professional journalist that is continually being held up to we bloggers as denizens of fact checking and painstaking research that we cannot hope to emulate.
The story has already whistled round the world, the Times of India, Australia, the US, it has been picked up by many eminent bloggers and repeatedly faithfully, and it is wrong on so many levels. Codswallop, bunkum, gobbledygook.
The tragedy is that there is a true story lying behind it, one that should have occupied many hours of patient journalism, many, many years ago. A story which every main stream editor has stonily ignored. Too complicated. Not sexy enough. ‘Can’t quote living people to flesh it out for our readers.’
Let me tell you the true story of the Court of Protection.
The Court was not set up by Jack Straw two years ago. It is not ‘an invention of Nu-Labour’. It has been in operation since medieval times in one or another of its many reincarnations; it has had more face lifts than Joan Rivers, more comebacks than Liberace. Every time it is criticised, it repaints the front office, changes its name on the stationary, and continues on its merry way with remarkably few changes.
If we go back to medieval times, it was the province of the Lord Chancellor, the man of God, the King’s conscience. Its core function was to prevent the King sequestering the assets of those who were in no position to stop him; because they were children, because they were mentally incapable. Since very few people actually had any assets, even up until the second world war it was not an onerous function for the Lord Chancellor. The occasional fourth son suffering from what we now term Down’s syndrome, of some minor baronet who had inconveniently inherited freehold land lying under a proposed shopping centre might require some action, but little else.
The welfare state with its ubiquitous ‘benefits’, and the rise of property ownership, changed all that, and the Lord Chancellor handed this backwater to the quaintly named ‘Master of Lunacy’ and a handful of civil servants to administer. It was still a genteel business, early reports on ‘patients’ of the court as they are legally known, amounted to pocket sized lined sepia notebooks with the crown insignia that contain such illuminating records as ‘sad case, his Father was my brigadeer’, and the sober ‘Noted’ from the Master, (the Judge) as proof that the patient had duly been visited and his welfare enquired about.
Things really kicked off in the 60s, the compensation culture was burgeoning, medical advances were discharging people from hospitals that were more dead than alive. We were living longer, our bodies and our brains not always in step. Perfectly ordinary people who had day dreamed though life were inheriting sums of money that made eyes bulge.
By the 1980s the system was considered ‘not fit for purpose’ or whatever the term was in those days, and the 1983 Mental Health Act gave birth to ‘The Official Solicitor’. More paint in the foyer, another tranche of stationary, and the old girl creaked on again.
More criticism, yet another repaint, the printing presses rolled once more, and we were introduced to ‘The Public Trustee’. The tea trolleys till rattled along the same corridors, the same civil servants with a few additions were still filling in the same sepia covered report books. In pencil. In case they made a mistake.They had to pay for their own Rich Tea biscuits now. Very little else had changed though.
There used to be a fine example of black humour in the acknowledgment of their place in the civil service pecking order. It was said that you couldn’t get fired – you were transferred to another department. Not sideways, but downwards. Very near the bottom was ‘MAFF’, the old Ministry of Agriculture, or the ‘Dumb Animals’ as they were known, if you got kicked out of that, you went down to the ‘Dumb Humans’ – otherwise known as the Public Trustee’s department, if you couldn’t hack that there was only the ‘Dumb Foreigners’ – or ‘Immigration’ left. It is with wry amusement that I note the new head of the latest resuscitation of the offending corpse is one Martin John – transferred from Asylum and Immigration.
Another mauling by the National Audit Office and the Quinquennial Review resulted in the 2005 Mental Health Act and rising from the ashes once more – ‘The Public Guardian’, now with a fancy purple foyer, and yet more poor quality stationary. Oh, and two burly security men on the door to keep the enraged ‘clients’ out.
When the ‘Public Trustee’ hove into view, the new chief executive in a rash moment, agreed to meet some five of the 36,000 patients under his putative care. He was duly ferried round to five different homes and returned astounded to report to all in the office – for not one of those civil servants had ever met any of the people whose lives they controlled – that these people could actually speak for themselves! They knew their own name, they knew what day of the week it was, Heavens! one of them had even taken him to task for ‘not answering his letters’! Gosh! they could write as well, they weren’t all dribbling idiots parked in the corner of an asylum somewhere. This was a revelation, he was hailed as a thoroughly modern hero.
By the next day the excitement had subsided and it was business as usual.
Let me tell you of some of the people he would have met. Let me tell you of Dan, name changed for obvious reasons, for he had been a ‘client’ of the Court of Protection for over 60 years.
Dan’s Father was extremely, Great Gatsby rich. His Mother lived in the country, visited at week-ends by her husband, drinking during the week. When Dan was six, his Father committed suicide. Not money troubles, he left rolling acres of millions. To Dan. Which was a problem, for Mother was pregnant, and a few months after his Father’s death, Dan had a brother. A brother who was not mentioned in the will. Bored with Dan, and with a squalling new baby, Mother called the family Doctor and told him that Dan had had an epileptic fit. Perhaps he had – perhaps he hadn’t, for it was never recorded that he had another. Dan was promptly shipped off to the P***** Home for Mental Defectives. Mother died shortly after that, and the family accountant/solicitor took charge of Dan, his brother, and the millions. His brother fared slightly better, he did get an education in a good school when the time came, but Dan was left where he was, with a cheque for his keep arriving at regular intervals. No one complained. If Dan did, no one was listening. The Lord Chancellor sent someone to see Dan every five years or so, and thus it was recorded that he was now living on a farm ‘enjoying a healthy lifestyle though obstinate and unhelpful – when asked to clean the pig pen, he replied why should I?’ Why indeed. The farmer and his wife were being paid £100 a week to give him a home. Time passed and Dan enjoyed a dalliance with a ‘serving girl’ as the Solicitor sonorously recorded, when explaining to the court why he had removed Dan from the farm and sent him to a more ‘secure’ environment. £250 a week.
When I met Dan he was 73, an eloquent and elegant figure, living in two rooms above a garage in a select Home Counties district. Both the gas cooker and the gas fire bore condemned labels. There were two deck chairs and little else. The room was drab and cold. Except for the laughter, for Dan had found a companion, indeed, he had married her in an unexpected act of rebellion. Together they told me of how they had met a man from a minor charity who had counselled them and told them of their right to marry – something the Solicitor had told them they could not do. Indeed, the charity had paid for the wedding ring.
As Dan spoke, I read back through the old reports. I came across a report of the odd occasion when a Mrs ***** – strangely the same surname as Dan, had arrived. ‘Oh, my brother married the Solicitor’s daughter’ said Dan. She had taken him off to London for a ‘medical check-up’; that evening he complained to the staff of a pain in his testicles. On examination by a Doctor, two stitches were discovered. It was suspected that Dan had undergone a vasectomy. ‘It must have been whilst I was asleep in the Doctor’s’ said Dan. ‘Noted’ was the Master’s comment.
I found the receipts for the B.O.A.C (yeah! that long ago) first class flights to the South of France for the Solicitor and his wife ‘to check out suitable holiday accommodation for Dan’ – needless to say, he had proved ‘too unwell’ to go on holiday. Nobody had ever expressed surprise at all this. Just ‘Noted’. I found the bill for his present accommodation – a stonking £1,000 a week for ‘care home facilities’ with an extra charge for delivering meals to Dan and his Missus in their Eyre above the garage ‘as requested’ – no mention of their cooking facilities being condemned, nor the lack of heating.
I was able to do something for Dan, I raised merry Hell at the court, I bent every rule, sent my reports accidentally to the wrong people, very nearly lost my job over it. He had to wait until the solicitor died, of course. The court doesn’t move that fast, but after some years he was in a decent home with decent furniture, and decent food. Aged 76. His wife was able to bring action for the sexual abuse she had suffered before Dan took her under his wing, she got compensation. The Care Home Owner shot himself. The millions were recovered. They are still in the Court of Protection. They have been since he was 6. Dan was considered too ‘unworldly’ after the life he had led to control his money. So he is still paying thousands of pounds to the court every year for his ‘Protection’.
If you are bored, just go away. I have more to say.
Let me tell you of Beryl. Beryl had a daughter who was seriously ill at a tragically young age. Money was collected for her by well wishers through a newspaper. Beryl could neither read nor write. She was a traveller. She was introduced to a solicitor who would look after the money for her. All organised by ‘The Official Solicitor’. She still had all the paperwork with her ‘case number’ neatly printed on top. A house was bought – she was told – for her and her daughter to live in. A few weeks after moving in her daughter died. A few weeks after that, the yellowing paper-cuttings were being pulled out of a bin liner thick and fast now for me to read, the chimney in that house collapsed trapping her young son. His arm was so badly crushed that it had to be amputated. The son was produced to wave his armless stump at me.
Meanwhile, and some people have all the luck, her brother had been involved in a motor accident which he survived to enjoy life in a wheelchair with only half his original brain. Beryl had no money to repair the house, the solicitor said there was no money left but he would find her a house to rent near his new place of work. He did, it was a dismal place in what is acknowledged as the ar*e end of the world. He said the money from the house would be invested. Sometime later he told her that the investment had failed and she would now have to pay the rent herself. She did. She gave it to him every week. She was a good five miles from the nearest house, never mind shop, and her biggest worry she told me was that the kindly solicitor had given her a car, but it had failed its MOT and she had no money to pay for the repairs. I was little puzzled by all this, because the name she gave me as solicitor was the name listed with the Court of Protection as being Receiver of the compensation the brother had received from his accident. The house was listed as being owned by the Brother. She told me I was mistaken, there had been no compensation.
A little checking back at the office, or rather in the pub round the corner from the office, for incredible as though it may sound, the case officer involved was – albeit a good and efficient man – a confirmed alcoholic who was in the habit of taking his case files round to the White Horse as soon as it opened, and doing his work there until it closed, with no adverse comment that I ever heard from anyone in that building, soon turned up the fact that the car had been the personal property of the ‘solicitor’, that he had sold it to the ‘client’ – for £7,000, and you never saw such a junk heap in your life – and that the brother had indeed been bought the house out of his compensation, nay had carried out some expensive repairs to it over the years. None of which were in evidence.
Now you may imagine that the Court of Protection swung into action at this point and ‘did’ something. There was one small problem. Two actually. Firstly the court was undergoing one of its periodic fits of renewal, name changing and foyer re-painting, with all the associated turmoil, union disputes, excessive sick leave such ‘change’ brings, files being dumped in public waste paper boxes by over worked case officers, the entire telephone system being diverted to the emergency phone in the creaking lift and other assorted shenanigans that accompany the birth of yet another ‘new’ Court of Protection, and secondly, there was only £8,000 left in the brother’s account.
Now as part of the latest reincarnation, this one being into the ‘Public Guardianship – helping to protect Britains’ vulnerable’ one, it had been decided that the Public Guardian would no longer act as Receiver of funds for those tortured souls who were prone to pee in the office waste paper bin, could be found at dawn sitting outside the office demanding some money, or whose relatives had terminally fallen out and proved themselves a pain in the neck, henceforth the Public Guardian would appoint ‘professional Receivers’ from amongst those Solicitors that they knew. The problem was that those solicitors that they knew tended to be very well heeled and profitable practices involved in the Personal Injury bandwagon. Whilst they welcomed the potential £2,400 a year in fees for doing remarkably little, they were none too keen on the idea of some of the court’s finest sitting on their doorstep when they opened up in the morning.
That was the first concession. Henceforth each client would be allocated a Receiver who lived as far away from them and as inconveniently for the client as possible. The second concession had them scratching their head for all of two minutes. What about the clients like Beryl’s brother, who only had £8,000 left? Their money wouldn’t earn enough interest to pay their fees. Simples, said the Minister, and with one stroke of his pen, he decreed that those clients who only had £10,000 or so left would ‘have their autonomy’ grandly returned to them.
So the most vulnerable clients no longer had any protection. All across the country, nurses who had bought big houses when the local mental hospital closed, and taken George, and Tom and Dave , harmelss souls all, to live with them for a comfortable £300 a week or so, suddenly found cheques for £8 and £10,000 a piece whistling through their door with the admonition that it was, of course, to be spent wisely on the client.
Beryl got such a cheque. It was the last she heard of the Court of Protection. The Solicitor fled to Spain. Nobody pursued him. Least of all the court.
But, you say, it can’t all be doom and gloom; indeed it isn’t. There are families who selflessly raise deeply damaged children without ever dreaming of spending a penny of their compensation, there are husbands and wives who care for each other in old age, there are wives who take home brain damaged husbands changed beyond recognition by medical science and who ignore the tantrums of a virtual stranger, find it in their hearts to care for them day in day out, and who shrug ruefully as the court go through the pantomime of treating them as though they are criminals. Those people didn’t need a Court of Protection. They wouldn’t touch a penny of their loved ones finances if you ordered them to at the point of a gun.
They still get to pay hundreds of pounds a year for the privalege of being treated like that. Exactly the same as the people who did need protection and got nothing more than ‘noted’ on their file year after year. £26 million pounds worth a year of them.
The only thing that is ‘new’ about this Court of Protection, is that the same nincompoops, the same incompetent, disinterested, time serving and unprofessional idiots who are even now unpacking their new headed notepaper, now control not only your money, but your medical treatment. The doors are still closed. The public and the press still banned. Whilst they decide whether you should get food and water, or go on the Liverpool Pathway.
If that doesn’t make your blood run cold, nothing will. Now off you pop, get yourself an Enduring Power of Attorney form and outwit them.
You can appoint someone you trust to do all this for you. The court will still charge them for ‘not’ supervising them. They won’t check it is your signature on the form, they won’t even ask where your money is. They could, they have the power. Maybe they will one day, even the court believe that 10% is a conservative estimate of the number of Enduring Powers of Attorney that are being abused by relatives and Solicitors. At least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your life and money is in the hands of someone you once liked enough to ask them to do it for you.
Not someone you’ve never met.
You will find more on this theme HERE