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'Stolen memories': child sexual abuse and sedation at Aston Hall Hospital

Abuse lawyers at Leigh Day urge the Department of Health and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to consult with survivors of abuse at Aston Hall Hospital

Teenager looking out of window
Alison Millar leads the abuse claims team at Leigh Day.  Catriona Rubens is a trainee solicitor in the abuse team.  
The public has reacted in horror to reports of sexual and physical abuse of young patients whilst under the sedation of a so-called ‘truth serum’ at Aston Hall Hospital, Derbyshire, from the 1950s to 1970s.

Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board, in conjunction with Derbyshire Constabulary, has recently published a report which brings the barbaric abuse at Aston Hall to light. 
Aston Hall was a psychiatric hospital and treatment centre for children with learning disabilities and mental health issues. Many of its residents were under the care of various local authorities, and came from Children’s Homes across the country.  Some were housed at the hospital on a long-term basis and only had Aston Hall to call ‘home’.
The vulnerability of Aston Hall’s young patients did not prevent inappropriate practices being carried out on them, under the auspices of treatment. Derbyshire Constabulary’s Report found that many patients were subjected to narcoanalysis, a procedure that involved injecting children with sodium amytal – also known as truth serum - to try to ‘unlock’ previous abuse and trauma. Accounts were given of children being restrained and physically assaulted by staff before being stripped naked and forced to wear a garment that resembled a strait-jacket.  They were then injected with sodium amytal, and had ether dripped through a gauze mask into their mouths. Some of the victims’ memories of what happened next are understandably hazy: reports range from being asked questions about sexual abuse by family members, to being sexually assaulted or raped. Others have reported waking up to unexplained wetness or bleeding in their genital area.
It is clear that the practices at Aston Hall, under the direction of Dr Milner, were utterly barbaric and caused huge trauma to the child patients. A key question for survivors remains: how was Dr Milner able to institute his regime of drug-induced abuse for almost 30 years?
The reports by Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board and Derbyshire Police do not necessarily answer this question; although arguably their remit was to consider current safeguarding risks and the extent to which criminal charges could be brought. As Dr Milner is now deceased, it is too late for the police to interview him under caution. Documentary evidence is also scant, as Dr Milner often advocated a ‘no notes’ policy when it came to narcoanalysis treatment. The challenges facing any investigating authority are numerous; this should not prevent every effort being made to uncover the truth.
The Department of Education has decided that a Serious Case Review was ‘not appropriate or required’ in relation to with Aston Hall. There has also been no announcement of an independent inquiry by any NHS body connected with the hospital. This is disappointing. As recent cases such as assaults by Dr Myles Bradbury at Addenbrookes Hospital, and the mistreatment of vulnerable residents in care homes run by the Atlas project, have shown, abuse in health and social care settings is not confined to the past. Only by close scrutiny of these scandals, with survivors’ voices at the heart of the process, can we ensure that these kind of incidents never happen again.  
Responsibility for the events that took place at Aston Hall now lies with the Department of Health and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. We would strongly urge the Department to consult survivors about outstanding questions they may still have, and use all available resources to ensure that their concerns are properly answered. 
Huge parts of the survivors’ childhoods – and for some, their memories – were stolen at Aston Hall. They now deserve the assistance of the State to help them rebuild their lives, and fill in the gaps.  
The abuse team at Leigh Day has been approached by a number of former patients at Aston Hall regarding potential civil claims. If you have an enquiry in connection with Aston Hall, please contact a member of the team on 020 7650 1201.

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