Landmark legal claim settled on behalf of mother and her son who suffered regime of abuse at Veilstone House in Devon
A landmark legal claim settlement has been achieved on behalf of a mother and her son who was subjected to a regime of abuse and harm at a care home called Veilstone in Devon.
Posted on 01 November 2023
The settlement was approved by a judge at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this morning, Wednesday 1 November 2023.
Ben lived at Veilstone for 17 months during the years 2010 to 2011 after he was moved from Winterbourne View. During that time Ben suffered a regime of abuse. Veilstone House staff controlled Ben’s access to his family and prevented his mother, Claire from seeing him.
This was part of a rigid culture of behaviour management at Veilstone, where residents like Ben were routinely punished and controlled by staff.
The abuse Ben suffered included:
- The use of a “quiet room” against him: a small, locked room without natural light, a bed or toilet facilities. Ben’s records showed he was sent to the quiet room on at least 117 occasions, including overnight;
- Repeated physical restraints;
- Being denied family visits or phone calls when Ben hadn’t complied with staff orders;
- Punishments for not being able to read or spell certain words when Ben didn’t have the capability to do so;
- Having his toys and DVDs taken away from him.
Ben has been diagnosed with PTSD because of the abuse he suffered.
Ben was represented in his legal claim by Catriona Rubens and Alison Millar from the abuse team at law firm Leigh Day, who also settled a separate claim on behalf of Ben’s mother, Claire.
The parent company responsible for Veilstone, Atlas Project Ltd, was dissolved after a criminal case was brought over abuse allegations. In 2017, 12 managers and carers at Veilstone were convicted of mistreating learning disabled residents including Ben.
Ben and Claire’s legal claims were settled with the commissioners of Ben’s care, Devon County Council and the local NHS partnership trust. As the NHS trust no longer exists, the Secretary of State for Health accepted responsibility for the claims.
The claim was brought under the Human Rights Act, Article 3, prevention against torture, and Article 8, the right to a family life.
Under the terms of the landmark settlement:
- The Defendants have admitted breaches of Ben’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, Articles 3 and 8.
- The Defendants have admitted breaches of Claire’s right to a family and private life (Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights) due to her inability to see Ben while he was at Veilstone.
- Devon County Council has made a full written apology, attached.
- The Secretary of State for Health has agreed to make an apology.
Ben’s sister Emma said:
"Eleven years on from the abuse Ben and others suffered in Veilstone, and in other homes run by Atlas Projects teams ltd, we are relieved to have reached a settlement with one of the commissioning bodies responsible for Bens's care, and with the Secretary of State for health on behalf of the other.
"It has taken a long time and has not been easy to reach this point- our family, particularly Ben, is much changed, and traumatised by all that he has experienced in the social care system. A system designed for care, that let him down so badly.
"When the system fails, it is people with learning disabilities and their families who pay a high price, with little or no accountability by those responsible- so the apologies and acknowledgement that breaches of human rights occurred for Ben, and for our mother, are important to us.
"In both cases, the impact of these breaches is significant and will likely be lifelong. Today marks the beginning of an opportunity for Ben to move forward with his life, and for our mother to begin her own healing. We know that this opportunity comes alongside a stark reality, that Ben lives still with the trauma caused by his time at Veilstone, we can only hope he will someday heal from this.
"People with learning disabilities and their families have the same human rights as everyone else to be free from harm and abuse, and to have a family life. Whilst this settlement is a landmark, we know sadly that the breaches of human rights underpinning it are far from rare, Ben is not the only person with learning disabilities, and we are not the only family, to have our human rights breached.
"We hope that other families can benefit from this outcome, to champion their own rights and challenge human rights breaches.
"We thank Ben’s lawyers, Leigh Day, and Jeremy Hyam KC for supporting us throughout this journey, we are indebted to their kindness, support and expertise."
Ben’s family have been supported in their legal campaign by The Challenging Behaviour Foundation. Chief Executive Viv Cooper said:
“Whilst this settlement is a landmark, we know sadly that the breaches of human rights underpinning it are far from rare and that this family will continue to live with the consequences. We hope that other families can benefit from this outcome, to champion their own rights and challenge human rights breaches.
“We look to the minister, who accepted Ben’s human rights were breached, to take immediate action to prevent others going through the experiences that he has, at high human and financial cost.”
Leigh Day solicitor Catriona Rubens said:
“It is a testament to the tenacity of Ben’s family that the bodies responsible for his placement accept that his rights were breached by the cruel and inhumane regime of “care” at Veilstone.
“Ben’s mother Claire has fought tirelessly for recognition that she was unlawfully deprived of contact with her son, and it is right that the State bodies accept that this breached Claire’s own human right to a family life.
“The rights of learning disabled and autistic people like Ben to live good, fulfilled lives, must be upheld by the State. Ben’s case is a stark reminder of the devastating consequences that occur when institutions fail to uphold human rights protections and ignore the concerns of families.”
Alison Millar, Head of the Abuse Claims Team at Leigh Day, said:
“I am very happy that we have resolved this long running and groundbreaking legal case, upholding the rights of vulnerable people to be protected from abuse and enabled to maintain their family life in care settings. I hope that abusive residential placements like Veilstone are confined to history.”
Leigh Day instructed Jeremy Hyam KC from 1 Crown Office Row.
Alison Millar works in the human rights department at Leigh Day, where she is the head of abuse claims