The Stobart Affair

The joy generated across the weekend on social media was snuffed out earlier when the Eddie Stobart company announced it wouldn’t name a truck after Connor (despite hundreds of tweets putting his name forward in response to their request for names). The Head of Comms messaged to let me know the ‘no’ last night. Girls names only. We had a brief exchange before I went to bed with a seriously heavy heart. I missed a call from a journalist during a meeting this morning and came out to a BBC report of the news. The story was updated across the day to include the names of men – Lee Rigby, Valentino (Rossi) – who have been named on lorries and a character called Optimus Prime. A Transformer.

The same BBC journalist rang back later and said “You seemed so… so joyful really, in your (blog) post at the weekend. Like you thought it would actually happen…”

Yep. I was and I did. Other people seemed to think so too. The twitter response was an example of the magic generated when a diverse set of people step up and act. The kind of action identified in the Civil Societies Future inquiry report. It involved people who had never met Connor and those who knew him well. Like Deekz:

What’s an Eddie Stobart truck? Er, handing over to Connor here… a loyal, loving and dedicated advocate for all things Eddie Stobart. I was also reminded of this blog post I’d forgotten about; The Eddie Stobart Story. Wow. This must have been when he left the condolence message for Eddie Stobart. [Howl]

By this afternoon my timeline was full of tweets expressing surprise, disappointment and bafflement at the news. Not surprising really. [Why not?]

Some of the key ingredients (for me) of the collective action witnessed in the support for Connor this weekend, and in the civil society stuff, are love, humanity, kindness, community and understanding.

Love, humanity and warmth were fuelling further love, humanity and warmth. The fire burning bright for the Eddie Stobart company to do the right thing.

It would have been so easy for senior Stobart bods to reflect on the extraordinary and unprecedented response to their tweet, do a quick google and decide to chuck their (flaky) name policy out of the window.

A Transformer…

So blooming simple.

Why not?

‘Did anything strange or startling happen today?’

I’ve been in awe over the last couple of days watching the depth of support for the idea of a lorry named after LB unfold in response to a tweet by Eddie Stobart asking for ideas for names. Some background can be found here. If you search for Connor Sparrowhawk on Twitter there are literally hundreds of tweets ‘voting’ for him. It’s truly extraordinary. Particularly the spread of tweeters; learning disabled people, self advocates, parents, siblings and other family members, medics, social workers, the police, tv producers, film makers, social care directors, academics, activists, MPs, a shadow Minister, human rights experts, senior execs from NHS Trusts, regulators and third sector organisations.

My dad used to come home from work just after 5pm every day when we were pups and always ask my mum ‘Did anything strange or startling happen today?’ before giving her a kiss. I’m not sure it ever did to be honest.

This has been strange and startling. With an equally brilliant background. LB was a huge Eddie Stobart fan. We’ve a trunk of memorabilia and bits scattered around the house still. He enjoyed nothing more than a trip on a motorway to silently and beautifully enjoy Eddie spotting in solitude. When Edward Stobart died, he wanted to express his sadness online.

LB’s auntie Sam contacted Eddie Stobart in August 2013, a month after he died, to ask for a truck to be named after him. This was the information she sent:

The company again responded sensitively:

Dear Sam,
Thanks for your email.  Due to the Stobart tradition of naming trucks after females we are unable to name a vehicle after Connor however we have wracked our brains and if you felt it was appropriate we could include a tribute piece in the next edition of Spot On the members magazine. If this was interest please could you send me a photo of Connor. I look forward to hearing from you.
Kind regards, Bonnie
Sam sent this photo of Connor and Rosie flagging up that the sweatshirt might be a pirate version.

[I don’t know if this was an authentic Eddie sweatshirt but it features in the top photo almost unrecognisably. The unit excelled in boiling and shrinking clothes.]

Some of the tweets in support of naming a cab after Connor have referred to social justice and what such a decision would signify for a typically marginalised group of people who are too often denied an opportunity to lead anything approaching a flourishing life. Wendy Greenberg captured this:


It’s within the gift of the Eddie Stobart company to balance the justice scales a little bit and generate warmth, delight and priceless joy to have a ‘Connor Sparrowhawk’ cab beetling around the motorways of the UK and abroad. I can’t even begin to imagine making sense of what this would mean for us amidst the horror of the last six years. Connor never stopped reaching for the stars [his family tree produced by the unit psychologist included Dappy and Tulisa from his beloved NDubz on the sibling line]. The idea of a lorry named after him is the stuff of dreams. It would further be a cracking reminder for health and social care staff (and others) of the importance, value and brilliance of people like Connor.

I hope you can do this. Looking at the hundreds of replies to your request for names Connor is belting it out of the park with little or no competition.

“A one off” and a week that was…

This has been a right old week. A week of something. Stuff. A maelstrom of emotions and some fucking shite. Tuesday involved a serious schlep to London. First stop a British Association of Social Work conference at their newly opened building in Kentish Town. A talk and run jobby. I was first on. Safeguarding and human rights: what do families need from social work? What do we need? Easy peas:

Thoughtfulness, understanding, knowledge, integrity,

action, transparency and honesty.

The questions were a joy and included “What music did LB like?” I legged it to Westminster to meet with Caroline Dinenage (Minister for State for Health and Social Care). We had a chewy discussion around learning disability/autism related issues together with the lead bod from the Department of Health. I left feeling (surprisingly) heartened that Caroline D has heart, grit and determination.

Sticking around for my next gig, I went up to the public gallery to watch some of May’s brexit debate. The last time I was up in that cosy gallery was watching Evan Harris, then Oxford Lib Dem MP, deliver something about learning disability right back in the day. I remember painting a slogan on a tired old sheet on the kitchen floor one evening and waiting with the large banner at the wrong bus stop outside the Thornhill Park and Ride. Relieved when a mini bus hesitantly pulled over and welcomed me in. The first time I hooked up with My Life My Choice members.

Funny old world.

It was grotesquely mesmerising to watch the non-debate ‘live’ in the Commons. I then headed to Committee Room 10 for the INQUEST launch of Legal Aid for Inquests: Now or Never! campaign. Despite political distractions the room was packed with over 40 bereaved families, members of both Houses, journalists and third sector representatives. Bishop James did a sensitive and exemplary job of chairing a passionate and angry meeting. Three of us – Tanya El-Keria whose daughter Amy died in the Priory and Tellicia whose brother Kevin Clarke died after being restrained by police in London – spoke before the Minister of Justice, Lucy Frazer, responded. She didn’t shine. Trying to defend the government’s baffling refusal to introduce automatic legal aid for families at inquests despite weighty evidence was never going to work.

A summary of the launch by Hardeep Matharu is here. Despite the lacklustre performance by Frazer, captured on each face below, the sincerity, determination and rage in the room was palpable. Labour shadow minister Richard Burgon pledged to reform funding for state related deaths and there was a strong feeling that this is a battle that will (so fucking rightly) be won.

Then to Thursday and the re-opening of the disciplinary hearing into Valerie Murphy’s (LB’s psychiatrist) disciplinary hearing. She had been suspended for 12 months after a marathon hearing that stretched over seven months. She wasn’t struck off partly because of the ‘mitigating circumstances’ of working in the field of learning disability [I know]. Her catastrophic failings covered pretty much every bit of clinical practice. Including the very basics of epilepsy care.

This particular ‘medical’ note haunts me. Not just because it captures her clinical ineptitude. The wording reminds me of commentary about rare or endangered animals.

Evidence of how deeply LB was failed is written into and stamped across pretty much every communication captured during the 107 days he spent in that place and in every review since. The saddest piece of ‘new’ info that emerged from the original hearing for me, was that Murphy didn’t go on holiday until the Saturday after LB was admitted on the Tuesday night (March 19 2013).

We naively assumed she was on leave when he was admitted which is why she didn’t meet him until almost mid-April. She simply didn’t bother to wander over and see a young man admitted in a state of intense crisis before her two week holiday.

This is a tormented sadness (not the right words but no appropriate words exist). She was clearly so fucking crap that it didn’t ‘matter’ when she met him. [I struggle to type these words]. It really didn’t matter.

I can’t (I refuse to) shake off the puzzlement and heartache of how a specialist learning disability (responsible) clinician could ignore a newly admitted patient knowing she was about to go on leave for two weeks. My work doesn’t affect people’s lives/health but I prepare for holiday absence and colleagues do the same. I can’t understand why or how she could do this. [And before the thankfully small portion of medic defenders start with ‘she was so busy’ shite she wasn’t. There were four other patients.]

Murphy pitched up in Manchester yesterday with her potpourri of dry and smelly bits to woo the panel. They swallowed it and decided her fitness to practice was no longer impaired. Her abysmal non care of LB was a “one off”. No questions asked about how this could possibly be or (as chillingly) if it was, why?

The panel in a fuck you statement announced that ‘a reasonable and well informed member of the public’ would agree with their decision to find Murphy not impaired.

They are wrong.

It’s impossible to articulate the intense distress and harm these hearings generate for bereaved families. I understand they are stressful and distressing for health or social care professionals. I get that. As bad as professionals may feel, they typically go home to their families though. They don’t live with an intense pain that defies articulation, loss and an absence that regularly winds, wounds, generates panic, anxiety or worse. They don’t desperately try to hold onto the smells temporarily woven into clothing, visit the earthy spaces where their children are buried or scattered, and regularly howl at the sky.

They simply don’t.

Finally, two brighter developments. As the week unfolded, I missed a call out on twitter about the naming of Eddie Stobart lorries and the brilliant and collective responses to this captured by @Karachrome in this post. I can only imagine what an Eddie Stobart lorry named after LB would mean.

And this morning Julia Unwin mentioned LB in her keynote talk at the Nuffield Trust annual Health Policy Summit. The magic, the joy, the fucking kick ass ‘we can do this’ collective action continues.

Let’s do it.