The lawyer for a suicidal teen whose case prompted a judge to warn that there would be “blood on our hands” if authorities could not find her suitable care, has spoken of the “sad reality” that it took his “stark words” to resolve the matter.
The girl, known as X, will be moved to a special unit on Thursday after doctors managed to find her a place following a very public debate about the lack of mental health care for children in the UK.
Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, revealed last Tuesday that there were no places available for the girl in an “appropriate clinical setting” when she was due to be freed from a secure unit in 11 days.
Condemning the six-month waiting list for beds, Sir James hit out at the “disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision” of support for vulnerable people in the country.
In a judgement delivered in private in the High Court last week, Sir James said he felt “shame and embarrassment” that he “can do no more” for the girl and ordered that copies of his findings be sent to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Education Secretary Justine Greening and Justice Secretary David Lidington, as well as the chief executive of NHS England.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme on Tuesday, the girl’s lawyer, Simon Rowbotham, was thankful that Sir James had taken a stand on the case, but lamented the fact he was required to do so.
“It seems as though we would not have got at least as swift a reaction as we have got had the judge not said what he said... those stark words as you said, ‘you’ll have blood on your hands’, that has picked up a lot of momentum, support for the case... criticism,” he said.
“I think the sad reality is that had this case not been put in front of the president, and had the president not said what he said, we don’t know where we would have been on Monday. But it was looking unlikely we have got where we have got.”
Sir James said on Monday that the provision of care “should not be dependent” on legal involvement and said the latest development should “not be a matter for congratulations”.
He added that X should not be “privileged” because her case came before a senior judge: “I emphasise this because a mass of informed, if anecdotal, opinion indicates that X’s is not an isolated case and that there are far too many young women in similar predicaments. How are they to be protected?,” the BBC quoted him as saying.
The secure unit where the 17-year-old has been living has reportedly spent £125,000 on extra staff to care for her.
The unit - which has not been named in the latest judgement in her case - said the Youth Justice Board “failed” to provide additional resources to maintain X’s safety despite repeated requests.
According to the BBC, three social care staff were said to be off work suffering from “stress and anxiety” due to the “unusual experiences” they had observed with the girl.
The judgement in the case of X - who is in the formal care of Cumbria County Council - revealed she was convicted at a youth court and has been detained in custody for almost six months.
Earlier ruling told how the girl repeatedly banged her head and face agains the wall and needed to be checked every 50 seconds when she in the shower.
On Sunday, Katharine Sacks Jones, the director of Agenda: the alliance for woman and girls at risk, blogged for HuffPost UK on the case, saying it was “an affront to our basic humanity and decency that a girl at such risk and suffering so terribly is not able to get the support she so desperately needs”.
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and ROI (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill). Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.
Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.
Rape Crisis services for women and girls who have been raped or have experienced sexual violence - 0808 802 9999 Survivors UK offers support for men and boys - 0203 598 3898