The Case of Tony Hickmott and the underground railway of caring in the uk

Featured Image: Tony Hickmott and parents at 13: when he was 26 he was deprived of his liberty, incarcerated in a Assessment and Treatment facility that changed ownership, managership and client group many times during his eighteen years of incarceration

In Black History month it’s worth thinking about the parallels of the underground railway that enabled freed slaves to re-integrate into post civil war society when we think of the ‘escape’ from captivity of autistic Tony Hickmott, now 45 after eighteen years it’s the 21st century version of the same thing.

Tony was deprived of his liberty and sectioned when he was 26: incarcerated in a privatised and very profitable Assessment and Treatment unit, Cedar House 120 miles away from his family for over eighteen years. During the time that £11 million was taken by the company for this process: money spent on drugging him, isolating him, neglecting him, harming him. He’s now free to come back to Brighton, like a prisoner after a miscarriage of justice. We hope that he and his parents will have forever time together: we need to make sure this is the case. There are so many people still in these institutions, just as after the civil war, although there was an underground railway, not everyone escaped and managed to have decent lives, to our great shame.

What we can change is we can put back the lost layer of accountability and democracy and local knowledge in local media in the period of privatisation since 1979. At the moment we have to use our social status and influence at the micro level to rebuild the systemic structures we need for democracy to flourish. It’s as if we have to ‘prove’ what we see, instinctively know and feel is wrong and fight for the right to right things. 

Because we need to reinvent the neighbourhood and include everyone in our vision for the future at the moment there is no agreed community benchmark of ethics.

This is because for the market to reach its potential we have to tolerate an amoral streetscape as if we’re playing and players in an online disabalist, ageist, sexist, racist, misogynist online multiplayer game. Because we need to rebalance our over reliance on the online because of the greed we’ve unleashed without accountabilities the way we live is in a much smaller way in a much smaller space.

You can see why and how to free Tony it took a whole underground of journalists, staff, advocates, parents, organisations, campaigns to prepare the ground for his escape. He is only one of many. Read Rebecca Hardy, Kaya Terry’s, Jack Wright’s, Eleanor Hayward’s.@ianbirrell‘s Mail articles: they’re more than a campaign as well as the work of BBC and Sky journalists and a great network of freelancers across the world.

Were the owners, managers of Huntercombe Group, Cedar House like the slaveowners and when there’s a discovery, an ‘escape’, of someone like Tony, were they, how were they rewarded? Could you describe these uses, this baton passing as an ownership routine? A routine that needs to be shown for what it is?

One of the Directors of this new ‘ownership routine’ has over 100 interlocking directorships. 

‘We’ don’t know this: our children, young people, teenagers, young adults, adults, older people, people with health and physical limitations need to be the court of last resort. We need to build a community space to question and make these forms of exploitation more social, less amoral, less offshore, less online multiplayer game without real life consequences.

How can one person with these Companies House financial interests be accountable to any sense of developing community health and accountable process? Cedar House where Tony was placed was reviewed as a ‘good’ and ‘improving’ institution over the eighteen years he was imprisoned there two years ago (but the way inspections are archived colludes with a lack of real time urgency on these inspections). Since Tony’s ‘escape’ Cedar has been passed to another provider who are now seen as ‘failing’ and ‘inadequate’. Does this sound unconscionably like the way a felon does the time for the real offender?

When the former owners of Cedar House passed the baton of what was inspected as a good organisation on to another company it is obvious that this isn’t true: this wasn’t, still isn’t an organisation that is proud of its running and culture and results.

When we unpack the payment for harm routine here we realise just how much we’ve divested civic and democratic ownership of illness, age, disability and labelling not to the people who live around them in their physical neighbourhoods but, like the slaveholding mechanisms that determined the lives of slaves were rewarded when slaves where freed, we’re rewarding the 21st century version of these unaccountable mechanisms (£11 million for the harm done to Tony over eighteen years). 

Since the introduction of the category ‘limiting long term illness’ as a census category in 1991 it wasn’t ever used in the way people living in Britain expected census data to be used. 

With the election of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979 the whole notion of collecting statistics for the good of the nation in the traditional civil service ONS way was up for the grabs of the market in data and business information. What we gave away to global venture capital were the keys to our archives, our histories our aspirations to community to a developing sense of a shared, prosperous future. At the moment the ‘neighbourhood’ is defined in a negative way by the last forty year venture capital investment in rented property, short contracts, yearly migrant labour when agency contracts, gig and gang labour economies, agency working, illness, labelling, disability are seen as profit centres. 

What this has rolled out has been rented accommodation, agency employment which have led to a lack of capacity to care, to share, to collaborate as a norm. This has undermined community, citizenship and the ability and capacity of these neighbourhoods to care for their children, their old, disabled, sick. 

We need to give this capacity back: to re-establish neighbourhoods as places where aspiration, prosperity and health can live. Neighbourhoods need to be freed from these structural devices that work against neighbourhood renewal: instead of virtual techno-platforms in offshore domains locking identity data into prefigured life chances: health, disabilities, class, ethnicities, gender we need to reinstitute a balance between what we see, experience and feel in our lives, at work, in the neighbourhood and make the online much more democratically accountable.


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