The mother of an autistic teenager who died after falling from a cliff when his school was closed during lockdown has criticized the government’s response to a report into his death.
Patricia Alban’s son Sammy Alban-Stanley, 13, fell after climbing over the railing of a cliff in Ramsgate, Kent, in April 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the first national lockdown was in force.
To prevent similar tragedies, the coroner released a report to prevent future deaths. In it he found that there had been significant failings in the care given to Sammy by Kent County Council and the North East London Foundation Trust.
Instead, the Department for Education blamed the pandemic for the lack of care he received, saying there were “unusual demands” on local services at the time.
Patricia, 56, said the response not only ignores but “refutes” the coroner’s suggestion that more practical and social support should be available for families with rare brain diseases.
Patricia Alban’s son Sammy Alban-Stanley (pictured together), 13, fell after climbing over the railing of a cliff in Ramsgate, Kent, in April 2020, after his school was closed during lockdown
A report into his death by Kent County Council and the North East London Foundation Trust found there were significant failings in Sammy’s care
Patricia, from Kent, said: “Losing Sammy is the most excruciating, unrelenting pain that cannot be expressed in words.”
“The thought that the coroner’s thoughtful and forensically researched report, designed to prevent future deaths, would mean that other parents and children would not have to suffer the same ordeal gave me hope.”
“Instead, the coroner’s suggestions were not only ignored but refuted.”
Following the incident in 2020, Sammy was flown to King’s College Hospital in London but died from his injuries four days later.
The 13-year-old was autistic and suffered from Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes physical symptoms, learning difficulties and behavioral problems.
For Sammy, this included high-risk behavior that would lead to self-harm and life-threatening incidents.
Patricia said neither Kent County Council (KCC) nor mental health service North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT) were prepared to offer Sammy effective ongoing support.
The only way Patricia could get help with Sammy’s behavioral problems was to call the police. There were over 29 police contacts and at least 13 police tips to the KCC.
Twice Sammy was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act due to the high risk he posed to himself, and yet Patricia was unable to receive practical support at home to manage the episodes.
The Department for Education instead blamed the pandemic for the lack of care Sammy received, saying there were “unusual demands” on local services at the time
Patricia (pictured with Sammy and his siblings) said the response “refutes” the suggestion that more support services should be available to families with rare brain diseases
At Sammy’s inquest, deputy coroner Catherine Wood said there was a clear lack of what was provided to Sammy’s family by Kent County Council to support his care.
Kelly Tolhurst, Minister of State for Schools and Childhood, responded to the report: “The situation was unprecedented and placed new and unfamiliar demands on local authorities, schools and other services.”
“The ministry and local authorities have developed and improved processes during the response to the pandemic.”
Patricia said: “Ministers and authorities blamed the pandemic, they dared to invoke children’s and human rights laws when Sammy’s rights had been so blatantly violated.”
“The Minister for Children’s Social Care and Special Educational Needs mistakenly congratulated Kent County Council on an outstanding Ofsted report when it was found that the county had twice failed disabled children by that organization.”
“This lack of responsibility and inaction felt to me as if my beautiful boy, who had brought so much joy to the world, had died again.”
“Nothing has changed because the coroner cannot force ministers to take the actions she strongly recommends.”
“The money spent on Sammy’s investigation could have protected him well into adulthood.”
“Knowing that Sammy’s life means nothing to them even after his death and that other children’s lives are still in danger is truly unbearable.”
Sammy was autistic and lived with Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes physical symptoms, learning difficulties and behavioral problems
Lawyer Anna Moore, of Leigh Day, representing Patricia, added: “Although the coroner has found significant failings in Sammy’s care at both Kent County Council and the Trust, the response to their reports on preventing future deaths will be appreciated by Patricia and others little comfort.” I live in Kent that things are changing for the better.
“The responses do not address the key issues Sammy faced and simply point to the difficulties caused by the pandemic when the failures began long before.”
“Unfortunately, rather than addressing the clear concerns and articulating clear plans to address the deficiencies, the responses read more like a list of achievements, many of which were simply irrelevant to the issues in this case.”
“Recipients of reports aimed at preventing future deaths have a duty to respond, but there is no mechanism to monitor the adequacy of responses or to monitor whether change is actually taking place.” “Urgent reform of the system is needed.”