Father could not have freed autistic son without press

A man whose 21-year-old son autistic son was unlawfully taken away from him has praised the role of journalists in exposing the actions of Hillingdon Council.

Steven Neary was reunited with father Mark in December after he was taken into care a year earlier by the council. Mr Neary had thought that his son’s move into a ‘positive behaviour unit’would only be a temporary one do give him some respite as he recovered from flu. But he faced a year-long elgal fight to be reunited with his son after the council refused to let Steven go home.

Yesterday’s ruling that Steven Neary can stay at home followed a week-long trial at the Court of Protection which, in what is believed to be a legal first, journalists were allowed to report on. The move to open up the hearing, and name the parties involved, followed a challenge from five media organisations earlier this year.

High Court judge Mr Justice Jackson ruled yesterday that the council had “unlawfully detained” Steven and breached his human rights by keeping him away from his father’s home.

The judgment also condemned council officials for circulating a three-page “media briefing note” which created a “particularly unfair and negative picture” of Steven in an attempt to “counteract adverse publicity”. The judge “expressed dismay”, saying the “sorry document” was “full of contentious and inaccurate information”.

Mark Neary said yesterday: ‘We would not be here today if it had not been for the press involvement. The press have been totally supportive and coverage of the case has not harmed Steven at all. I don’t think Steven really understands what it has all been about. For him he just likes seeing his pictures of himself on television and the internet.”

Romana Canneti, a media lawyer working for The Independent, which led the media application for access to the hearing, said: “The issues in this case – surrounding the lawfulness of the local authority’s actions – were of great public interest.

“A young man who had done nothing illegal and was not subject to a Mental Health Order was deprived of his liberty for a year.

“Steven’s story was already in the public domain before the Court of Protection’s involvement; recognising this, the court allowed the media to identify him and the local authority.

“We are delighted that judges are recognising the importance of open justice by allowing reporting of private Court of Protection proceedings – albeit in a slow and piecemeal way.

“The result is that the public gains an insight into how the courts deal with these very difficult cases, and the media have demonstrated that this can be achieved in a responsible way without adversely affecting the interests of the vulnerable person at the heart of the case.”

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