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Case against specialist school settled on behalf of boy with autism

The mother of a young boy with autism, who suffered serious injuries in a ‘soft-play’ room at a specialist school, has successfully recovered damages on his behalf in an out-of-court settlement.

13 February 2019

Our client, who is referred to here as Ben in order to protect his anonymity, is autistic and has a significant hearing impairment. 

After his placement at a mainstream school unfortunately broke down, it was decided by his local education authority that a specialist educational placement would be more appropriate for him, and in 2014 he therefore moved to Baston House School, which was at that time owned by Hillcrest Children’s Services.

Ben is known to suffer with high levels of anxiety and also has difficulties with behaviour and anger management. This can at times lead him to display challenging behaviour.  

As such, when Ben started at Baston House, a Behavioural Support Plan was put in place, setting out strategies for helping him to calm down. 

Ben’s mother advises that one of the agreed strategies was that he should be allowed to go outside and should be given as much space as possible to run around. Ben found this helpful and it is a strategy that his family also used at home.

In the summer of 2015, following an altercation with two other pupils, Ben was placed in a room which the school called the ‘soft-play’ room. It is understood that this contained exercise equipment including a large exercise ball. 

Ben reported to his family that, whilst he was in there, two members of staff were standing outside and holding the door shut, so that he couldn’t get out. 

In a state of distress, Ben picked up the exercise ball and attempted to throw this out the window, but misjudged the distance and instead put both of his arms through the glass. He sustained serious injuries to his forearms, requiring hospital treatment and leaving him with serious scars. 

Ben did not return to school following this incident due to his severe anxiety and levels of distress. It has been very hard for him to re-integrate into any school since this time and he is now being educated at home. 

Ben’s family instructed Kate Whiting from the abuse claims team at Leigh Day to bring a claim in relation to this past incident against Outcomes First Group, of which Hillcrest Children’s Services is now a subsidiary. 

As Ben is a child, he brought the civil claim through his mother as Litigation Friend. She alleged on his behalf that the school’s management of Ben – in placing him in a room containing dangerous equipment and glass in circumstances where they knew, or should have known, that there was a risk of injury – was negligent. 

As safety glass had not been fitted in the room, it was also alleged that the school building was not safe or appropriate for educating children with special educational needs.

The Defendant admitted liability for the incident and expert evidence from an independent child and adolescent psychiatrist was obtained by Ben’s solicitors. The psychiatrist concluded that the incident had exacerbated Ben’s anxiety levels and had also caused him to suffer from Post Traumatic Distress Disorder. 

Ben was awarded compensation which his family intend to use for specialist therapy for him. 

Of their experiences as Ben’s family, his mother said:

"As well as Bens appalling physical injuries, the psychological impact of this incident has left Ben unable to enter a school or classroom environment. Due to his PTSD diagnosis from the incident, he remains at home where we are trying to build his confidence and trust again. I chose Baston House School as it claimed it was a ‘pioneering leader in autism education’. As a mother, my wish is that the authorities scrutinise the level of care of ‘specialist’ schools. 

"I would like to thank Kate Whiting at Leigh Day for her sensitivity and compassion towards a very difficult time. Her timely communication and expert knowledge made a difficult process so much more bearable."

Ben’s solicitor, Kate Whiting, added:

"Whilst we are very pleased that we have been able to reach a resolution for Ben and his family, this incident – which has greatly affected our client and has left him with scarring which he will continue to carry with him into adulthood – should never have happened. 

"Ben is now out of school altogether and, whilst the compensation he has received will help him to access some specialist support, sadly this is likely to be a long and difficult process for him.

"Ben was placed at this school precisely because it held itself out as a specialist institution which could care for – and provide education to – children with needs like his, yet his family are clear that his experiences there could not have been more different." 

This story has been anonymised as there is an Anonymity Order in place in this case. This is a Court Order preventing any publication or other disclosure of any name, address or information which may identify the Claimant or his Litigation Friend. The individuals involved must therefore remain strictly anonymous. 

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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