Hope sapping, mind-numbing and soul destroying…

…and that was just watching the CPS lawyers try to set-up their recording machine before the meeting even started. On Friday the 04th May 2018, my older sister Sarah and I finally got a chance to meet two of the senior prosecutors from the CPS team who made the decision not to prosecute a Mental Health Nurse who had sex with our sister Alison on hospital premises when she was a mental health patient. The sex led to a pregnancy, a hastily arranged crisis abortion which was concealed and excluded from her mental health medical records, and ultimately, a deterioration in Alison’s mental health which led to her suicide. I’m not sure Sarah and I knew where to start when we planned the agenda for this long-awaited and eagerly anticipated meeting, there were (and here comes a spoiler alert folks, there still are) so very many unanswered questions.

As I write this it is nearly ten days since we met the CPS and this is the first time I have felt able to express any thoughts on the meeting. This last week I have felt more empty, hopeless and at times just plain old desperate, forlorn and detached than I can remember. I can’t relate to the people around me and I can’t begin to try to explain to anyone, perhaps other than those who have also suffered intolerable injustice, the heavy almost unbearable weight of abject emptiness I have felt. It’s as if we have travelled the yellow brick road (still one of the best stories of how a team of imperfect differences can reach a destination) and having reached the Wonderful Wizard of Oz we have discovered he really is nothing of the sort. Small, intellectually and emotionally, moribund and inept, desperately peddling to keep the wobbly corporate bike upright, utterly unable to empathize and defensive of the indefensible to the very last. There is now a huge tear in the fabric of my understanding of the universe. Everything I have been brought up to believe about the way the world should work in the country that I live in is in tatters around me. I feel like I have been stripped back to the very core of my being. I have gone down the rabbit-hole, I have seen the Matrix behind the illusion and now I feel hopeless, small and insignificant, very, very insignificant. Seeing my hope relentlessly and mercilessly taken from me by bureaucrats detached from the consequences of their decisions has, without doubt, shaped and created a different Tom Bell to the one I used to know and offer to the world.

We were greeted cordially enough into the soulless office building in the middle of Carlisle. The two CPS lawyers introduced themselves pleasantly and then the meeting descended into predictable farce as they attempted to start recording the meeting. They prodded, pressed buttons and stared in a puzzled kind of non-IT literate hopeful fashion at a bit of equipment that looked like a prop from an eighties TV cop show that still used old-fashioned analogue cassettes, a la Life on Mars style. We should have known at this point how unproductive the meeting was going to be. Their attempts to goad and cajole the obviously recalcitrant and probably seldom used recording beast into life did not go well. We sat patiently as the increasingly ill-tempered machine uttered a series of illegible pre-programmed instructions in a weird psycho-robot voice and then emitted a continuous burst of lengthy high pitched squeals. This went on for a good ten minutes before the meeting finally started. At the time I had thought it was just a classic if somewhat crude distraction technique, designed to put us off our stride. But perhaps on reflection, the machine was simply setting the tone, reminding all those present of the rules of the CPS, its behaviour accurately reflecting our experience of dealing with them thus far; 1) make the interface complex and difficult to understand and use so as to discourage further contact, 2) respond with a standard set of instructions and suggested processes regardless of the question being asked and 3) when things get complex, launch a stream of unintelligible nonsense through which no logic can be allowed to enter. CPS processes, like many public sector bodies, seem designed to ensure that only the persistent, those with time, motivation, a modicum of intelligence and a shitload of patience ever make it to the start line.

As we left the building, emotionally drained and no further forward, one of the CPS lawyers emerged with her mobile phone close to her face, smiling and explaining to the caller that she was sorry she had not answered her earlier calls as she had been in a meeting. And there was the contrast. It’s not that I mind anyone smiling, I have actually developed an increased liking for the smiles I see on other people as it reminds me I used to do it a lot more myself. But in that moment, the gap between our need for justice and the remit of their roles became clear; to us the meeting had been so much more than a meeting, it was a glimmer of hope, a hugely important staging post on a long long journey seeking justice for a dead sister who is no longer here to speak for herself because she was mistreated in the care of the NHS, to them, well to them, it was just another meeting and attending such meetings is just part of their job.

And if you’re wondering whether the CPS lawyers ever did get their antique tape-recording machine working, the answer is no, or “null point” as we should say in this week of Eurovision. But I did offer them a copy of the excellent quality recording I made on my fifty quid digital dictafone…we really are in the hands of clowns folks, the justice system we pay for seems well and truly fucked to me.

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The long slow journey to justice…

…as John Lennon famously observed, “nobody told me there’d be days like these”. With hindsight, it’s probably a really good thing they didn’t, if they had I would have crawled under the nearest duvet and would still be waiting for someone to tell me it was safe to come out. This is the first blog post I’ve put on this website and it’s been difficult to know where to begin. School and all the parenting in the world didn’t prepare me, couldn’t prepare anyone, for dealing with the bitter cocktail of malice and insouciant incompetence the Public Sector offers to those who want answers, perhaps even openness, honesty and transparency when things go wrong. Like watching a herd of elephants trying to ballet dance, witnessing the inability of Public Sector bodies to demonstrate empathy, understanding and subtlety at the points where it is needed most, is truly a unique and disheartening sight to behold. And the further down the rabbit hole I go, I realise it shouldn’t be this way, and it needn’t be this way.

It is now almost thirty years since the 12th of August 1988, the day my sister Alison had a crisis abortion due to the illegal sex acts of a trainee Mental Health Nurse. He, and his colleagues, many of whom turned a blind eye to what was going on, were supposed to be looking after Alison in an NHS Hospital in Carlisle called the Garlands. Instead, despite records showing he was advised and warned that what he was doing was inappropriate, unethical and illegal, a 35yr old trainee Mental Health Nurse called Robert Scott-Buccleuch, decided Alison was there for his gratification. He thought it would be a good idea to engage in sex on hospital premises with a vulnerable mentally ill 21yr old young woman. As a result of his actions, Alison became pregnant and had a crisis abortion. Scott-Buccleuch, the Nurse who got Alison into this predicament, then kept the truth from people who should have been told and could have helped. It seems he kept quiet to save himself. Following the failings in her care and the breach of trust she was subjected to, in December 1991, around the anniversary of the anticipated birth date of her aborted baby, Alison took her own life. It is the sort of thing you think only happens to other people or the families of other people, a far-fetched fiction or nightmare. But what is most amazing in all this tragedy, is that even though the facts are in the public domain, no one has ever been held accountable for the atrocious and ultimately tragic actions that happened in an NHS Hospital.

When I added a blog page to this website I wasn’t sure about calling it the “slog blog”, I thought people might think it was inappropriate for me to suggest that seeking justice for a sister I loved should be a slog. But it is. I may have the benefit of a deep and increasing reserve of anger and no shortage of passion, but it is still a slog, an exhausting mentally frustrating energy sapping process with more steps back than forward, and up to press many more disappointments than victories. Seeking justice for Alison has been made a slog by the intransigence, duplicity and sometimes just good old fashioned Public Sector incompetence that has been ever-present each and every step of the journey so far. If like me you were brought up to think the best of people then thinking the worst of those who manage the delivery of our public services doesn’t come naturally, though I must admit, it is getting easier. Our experience so far has been that each and every time we extended our trust and placed our faith and our fate in the hands of the system, we have been bitten. It seems decency is construed as weakness by people who have needed to become so cynical to survive in their respective shark tanks, we can only hope they would be unrecognisable, perhaps even the subject of revulsion, to their younger selves.

But we persevere, my older sister Sarah, my mum and I, we headed out on this journey with three objectives in mind; “straightforward” objectives so we thought. We set ourselves three goals of truth, accountability and justice…timeless simple concepts that we felt still mean something. We have a smattering of our first objective, truth, and we have taken some comfort from knowing that after nearly thirty years the perpetrator was finally forced to admit what he had done to the Police. As for accountability and justice, we still have a mountain to climb before we achieve these things. But we will keep on keeping on, we will continue to wade through the seemingly endless ocean of bureaucratic treacle, we are driven on by something bigger than ourselves, we will keep going until we get justice for Alison…