Secrecy lifted over man denied custody of autistic son

The full story of a man denied access to his autistic is to be made public for the first time after a media challenge to secrecy rules at the Court of Protection.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson also agreed to a media application to be allowed to identify the parties in the case – autistic Steven Neary, 20, and his 51-year-old father Mark, his main carer, of Uxbridge, west London, and the local authority, the London Borough of Hillingdon.

The application for journalists to attend the Court of Protection hearings in the case of Leary versus Hillingdon Council was made by The Independent, Guardian News and Media, the BBC, Press Association and Times Newspapers.

It is thought to be the first time that a judge in the Court of Protection has agreed at the start of a media application relating to reporting a case that all the parties could be identified.

Mark Neary has been involved with a battle with Hillingdon Council since December 2009, when 20-year-old Steven went into a “positive behaviour unit” for respite care because his father was ill.

He was supposed to be there for just three days – but the council then refused to allow him to return home, instead allowing him to make only short visits, and refusing to allow him to stay overnight.

The council has claimed that Steven Neary has challenging behaviour, and that he could be dangerous in public.

But his father says that much of the behaviour reported by staff at the centre is a result of Steven’s unhappiness at being kept away from his home.

Steven returned to his father’s home as a result of an interim court order in December, but the Court of Protection now has two issues to consider.

The first is whether Hillingdon Council acted lawfully in refusing to allow him to return to his father’s home, thus depriving him of his liberty, and the second concerns welfare arrangements for the future, including where he will live and arrangements for his care.

The Court of Protection was set up in 2007 and has the power to make Deprivation of Liberty Orders for people in hospital or local authority care.

The Independent reported the openness victory on its front page today noting that it has led the campaign on this issue.

Neary’s story was highlighted by his local paper the Uxbridge Gazette when it reported in July last year on the “Get Steven Home’campaign, which was launched the same month.

Neary told The Independent yesterday: ‘This has been an incredibly long struggle. I have tried everything that I could to persuade the local authority that living at home with his family was in Steven’s best interest. Most importantly of all, Steven is at home and he is happy.”

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