So, a week after Steven's latest escape from the Unit, Hillingdon eventually referred us to an IMCA. They had successfully blocked us getting one after DoLs number one, two and three in April, June and September. In two weeks time, the next DoL was due to be authorised (I'd long given up hope that they might be administered fairly, so an authorisation was inevitable). I've said it before, and I'll say it again, for me, it is one of the biggest flaw of the DOLs scheme - if the Local Authority don't want you to have an IMCA because they don't want their actions scrutinised, it is impossible to get one. You have to be referred by the people insisting on the DOL - you cannot refer yourself.
A few days later, I met our IMCA, Cilla, and we spent an hour going through the story of the year. She had already been to the Unit and picked up their logs and she was specifically interested in the best interest assessments. She took everything away and promised to get back to me by the end of the week. Later she told me that she was buying time - she couldn't believe how bad the assessments were and wanted to show her colleagues. I found it interesting that the Hillingdon assessments were so far removed from what a best interests assessment should be like, they made Villa disbelieve the evidence of her own eyes.
A week later, Cilla came with me to meet the 4th best interest assessor. I love Villa. She reminds me of Lieutenant Columbo. She has that bumbling style like him, sheets of paperwork all over the place. I could see the BIA smugly thinking "nothing to worry about here". And then Villa would go for the jugular. Repeatedly. My eyes filled up with relief - after 10 months of me against a posses, it was so heartening to have a professional fight Steven's corner. It didn't stop the 4th DOL being authorised but I think it showed Hillingdon that an external scrutineer was on their case.
Towards the end of November, Cilla came with me to the meeting where Hillingdon announced they had agreed the tender from the hospital in Wales and they wanted to start planning the move. Cilla was horrified and told them that their assessments would be deemed illegal when we got to court. It was the first time I considered that they might actually breaking the law.
In a way, Cilla had no impact on Hillingdon. Their arrogance saw her as an inconvenience to be swatted away. But Cilla started a process that built my confidence and quickly led to the court hearing.
I'll leave the last word to Justice Peter Jackson (who called her report "the first best interests assessment that deserves the name") and his opinion of the formidable Cilla, the woman who saved Steven's life:
"On 18 November, the IMCA delivered her report. It is an
impressive document. For the first time, professional support was given to Mr
Neary's arguments. The previous best interests assessments are subjected to
analysis. The IMCA's conclusion is that Hillingdon was potentially not acting in
Steven's best interests by refusing his father's request to have his son live
with him at home. The fact that this is the most important relationship in
Steven's life was noted. No evidence had been presented to show that the care he
had given to Steven over the years was no longer appropriate. A return home,
even as a trial period, should be considered. Further depriving Steven of his
liberty might lead to emotional harm. Steven's wish to return home was rational
and understandable and Mr Neary had demonstrated in a number of ways his
willingness to work positively with professionals involved in providing care for
Thank you Cilla, from two very grateful men.