The politics of jealousy: why Wirral’s 66 politicians need to be careful what they say about disability

The politics of jealousy: why Wirral’s 66 politicians need to be careful what they say about disability

Liverpool Carnival 12th July 2014

Liverpool Carnival Parade 2014: A number of wheelchair users taking part in the parade

The politics of jealousy: why Wirral’s 66 politicians need to be careful what they say about disability


Above is a photo of a carnival you will probably never get to see in a newspaper as it shows two disabled people in wheelchairs participating in the parade. So why am I showing you this and what relevance does it have?

For years, Wirral Council has got itself into trouble on disability issues. I’ll briefly recap, Martin Morton and the way Adult Social Services treated disabled adults, the proposed closure of Moreton Day Centre and now the proposed closure of Lyndale School.

The thread running through all of those is an extremely dangerous one to tell society. It’s one of withdrawing services for those with a disability or in the case of Martin Morton’s whistleblowing shamefully taking advantage of adults with disabilities as some of them due to the nature of their disability can’t stand up to organisations like Wirral Council without outside help.

So what sort of message does this give out? It’s one of jealousy of the vital services people require because of their disability. It’s one that fuels an increase in disability hate crime (much of which goes unreported). It’s one (that in the case of Lyndale School) thousands signed a petition against it going any further.

Disabled people are a part of society. I was brought up in the 80s and we were taught to be accepting and tolerant. When I was a teenager I went to school with a lad who had epilepsy, he used to routinely have fits and the school called an ambulance due to him knocking himself out. We didn’t treat him any differently though because of his epilepsy! We treated him as a friend.

In adult life I sat on a university committee of staff and students (I was there to represent the views of ~17,000 students). In what to some will seem an extremely ironic twist, the law library wasn’t accessible to wheelchair users as it was on the first floor. Despite our pleas, despite this being unlawful, the Chair of the committee was told that the university wanted to spend the small amount of money for adapting the building on other things. Disabled students weren’t a priority you see, not to senior management who came from a bygone age when people with disabilities didn’t go to university.

However, politicians have to be extremely careful when dealing with sensitive issues involving minorities. There’s a sensational over reporting of benefit fraud cases in the media. Officially more is lost to administrative errors than benefit fraud and the rates of benefit fraud are extremely low. Due to the press coverage this isn’t what some of the public think. Telling the public such boring facts sadly doesn’t tie in with the political line of some irresponsible tabloid sensational journalism.

So going back to Lyndale School. My views on it are well known and on public record. I don’t have any personal connection to the place other than having known its Chair of Governors Tom Harney for many years. The problem for Wirral Council is this though, it has a very chequered history involving disability issues that the public know about through the press. Such issues weren’t caused by one or two people being prejudiced but a culture at Wirral Council that allowed this to operate.

Now I know there are plenty of politicians at Wirral Council that know what happened in the past was wrong and despite what some people may think about politicians I know that many have a highly developed sense of right and wrong and know in their hearts when they’re asked to vote for something they don’t believe in. Yes, I’m being reasonable to politicians for a change.*

*A rare occasion I know.

The change has to start with them though, the rhetoric has got to change, the demonising of the disabled and minorities in society that they know can’t speak back has got to stop. For that they’ve got to look into their hearts. They’ve got to realise the damage their actions, that their words are doing to society at large, they’ve got to have some understanding of the consequences.

The people involved in the Lyndale School campaign are wonderful, pleasant people. Just because I wrote about what was happening I got sent a thank you card! I’ve never received a thank you card for a story I’ve written on this blog before (or since).

No, don’t be silly I’m never expecting a thank you card for writing about politicians but I’m trying to get across that the people involved with Lyndale School are very different to the political class. Unlike how certain politicians are being portrayed I don’t think many of the people involved in Lyndale School have even one ruthless bone in their entire body.

Yet this has been a struggle for them, they have families to care for and children with very complex and life limiting conditions. Many of them should be rewarded, applauded for the unsung work they do every day, unthanked by some politicians who now propose pulling the rug out from under their feet. The work of unpaid carers doing hard work in difficult circumstances saves the taxpayer billions each year.

The issues involving disability, culture, prejudice and stereotyping are extremely complex. They won’t be solved overnight. The law has changed, such legal battles have been won but society itself needs to catch up. My plea to politicians is to show leadership, to realise the sensitivities of these issues and to realise there are times when the politically right thing is to show compassion, humility and be flexible enough to have an open mind on such issues. The days of prejudice and stereotyping by politicians should be confined to the history books as they no longer have a part to play in 21st century society.

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Council (Wirral Council) 14th October 2013 Questions to the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care (Cllr Chris Jones)

Council (Wirral Council) 14th October 2013 Questions to the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care (Cllr Chris Jones) Questions on zero hours contracts, day services, Moreton Day Centre and domiciliary care

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Council (Wirral Council) 14th October 2013 Questions to the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care (Cllr Chris Jones)


Continues from Council (Wirral Council) 14th October 2013 Answers to Questions to the Leader (Cllr Phil Davies).

Cllr Stuart Kelly asked, “I liked what the Cabinet Member said in her report about the commissioning of services, but is the Cabinet Member embarrassed that Wirral was named and shamed over the summer as the council with most contracts with most care homes on Merseyside using zero hour contracts for their employees?

Is she also aware the response that was given to me when I submitted a Freedom of Information request which asked how many contractors for Wirral Council providing Council services have used zero hour contracts? The reply I received was Wirral Council does not have a policy on the use of zero hour contracts and that Wirral Council would not hold information about the resource management of our contractors as how they manage resources is a matter for the contractor. Does she still stand by that reply on behalf of the Administration and believe that resource management is not a matter for the Council when considering that we place contracts for care services for vulnerable people and when will we see a policy on the use of zero hour contracts by companies Council contracts with to provide services?”

Cllr Simon Mountney asked, “The Cabinet Member in her report details changes to residential and day services, which have been delivered on time and within Budget. Can she explain what effect the department’s failure to hit the performance indicator for permanent admissions of older people to residential & nursing care homes, as reported to Cabinet on Thursday will have on the department’s Budget and can she please give me an assurance that the same rigour and process are applied to the alleged payment of £48,000 is as being applied to the Martin Morton issue please?

Cllr Anita Leech asked, “I was delighted to hear from students and staff when I recently visited Moreton Day Centre which falls within my ward, that the much smaller group of students remaining have been able to carry out alternative and increased activity and participate in the local and vibrant community as well as the usual centre based activities and they are happy with the proposed move to other.. and I’d like to personally thank the staff of the day centre, parent and carer’s groups and the officers of the Council for the hard work they’ve put into reviewing this unfortunate closure as we’re providing what appears to be a facility that could be improved upon for the students remaining. I would however like to ask the question with regards to the hundred people who transferred from the services from Moreton. Did one to one consultation take place as was indicated to identify the needs of the individual and were their places allocated accordingly? And secondly how was the transition for the students, were there any issues?”

Cllr Phil Gilchrist asked, “Can I ask the Cabinet Member about the domiciliary contracts and the care of the elderly? What monitoring is undertaken in Wirral to ensure that Wirral isn’t subject to some of the problems identified recently nationally where mistakes were made by very limited time available for clients?”

Cllr Chris Jones responded, “Thank you very much for your questions, it’s nice to know you’ve actually looked at my report.

I suppose I can answer the two together really about the domiciliary contracts. If you had read the second page of my report, you’d see that we’re trying to support the principles of the ethical care charter, which looks after the workers as well as some looking at the people who need care. We are actively encouraging people and the firms who are going to tender to not use any zero hours contracts and we’ve asked for a report from the HR department to find out how many contractors that are generally used by the Council are using these zero hours contracts.

Stuart’s commissioning of services, we’re doing an awful lot of work with the NHS which has been a huge problem in the past I think we’re working far more closely together now around intermediate care and all the rest of it. The zero hours contract I’ve already answered Stuart. Chris Begya and Jacqui Evans’ reports are, Jacqui Evans is undertaking and is personally involved with the commissioning work and is making great inroads into that and looking at savings as well as improving quality of care for the people of the Wirral.

Anita asked about Moreton Day Centre. Everybody who attended Moreton has had a one to one .. they also had a .. visit to their new centre which we felt was really important. About seventy people have actually transferred, mainly to … which is a really popular choice mainly around .. moving anyway and to Heswall but others have gone to Pensby and Eastham as well but increasing places at Dale Farm taking extra visits to Dale Farm, and generally people have settled really well. Some of the staff have moved with the service users so .. a little bit of continuity of care for those users. Thank you Mr Mayor.”

Continues at Council (Wirral Council) 14th October 2013 Questions to the Cabinet Member for Central and Support Services (Cllr Adrian Jones).

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Cabinet (Wirral Council) 13th June 2013 Moreton Day Centre: Carers propose Social Enterprise Model

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 13th June 2013: Closure of Moreton Day Centre

Cabinet: Moreton Day Centre: Carers propose Social Enterprise Model

Cllr Phil Davies
Cllr Pat Hackett
Cllr Brian Kenny
Cllr Adrian Jones
Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr Chris Meaden
Cllr Chris Jones
Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cllr George Davies

Once Cabinet had approved the minutes of the last meeting and declarations of interest were out-of-the-way, the Chair turned went to the item that most of the people were there for, the report recommending the closure of Moreton Day Centre.

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Cllr Phil Davies said that the central government cuts led to “difficult decisions to take on the budget”, he referred to the three-month consultation on the specific option to close Moreton Day Centre and thanked everybody who had taken part in it. He hoped people had had the opportunity to read the report on Wirral Council’s website.

Mr John Daulby addressed the meeting on behalf of the carers and thanked the Council for giving them the opportunity to offer their proposals for changing day services whilst at the same time making the required savings. He said that the savings in their social enterprise model exceeded those proposed by the Department of Adult Social Services. They disagreed that the £400,000 for central functions should continue as in their view it would remove accountability to the day centre management.

With reference to Moreton Day Centre he said that the “fear and distress experienced by the customers, their families and carers is well documented” and that “uncertainty for Moreton customers still exists”. Mr. Daulby said that the carers wanted involvement in any change and that they wanted to direct any changes, as opposed to having changes imposed upon them.

Mr. Daulby said that their proposal “minimised the angst generated” and would involve changing the day centres to resource centres. They wanted the new service to be a “role model for day service provision across the country” and “transform them not close them”. They would seek alternative income streams but would need “the help and support of Wirral Borough Council” and “hoped it was not too late to abandon the DASS [Department of Adult Social Services] proposals”.

He said, “We know it’s not too late though to fix the location of Moreton and its size as a matter of urgency, find a more effective way of interacting with day service customers, carers and parents, commit the transformation team to work with us to establish a social enterprise and commit DASS to work with us in terms of transforming day service provision.”

Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28th March 2013 Further ban on filming and conflicts of interest

Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28th March 2013 Moreton Day Centre Consultation

The papers for this meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

Most of the meeting was about the twelve week consultation on the closure of Moreton Day Centre (which runs until the 5th June 2013).

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However once again, filming of this meeting was not allowed as the Chair said he had had “representations that one of the Members would not like to be filmed” and “until there was a policy please turn off the camera until we do get a policy, thank you.” For those who don’t know Members means councillors.

I then asked which councillor it was (as I could’ve quite easily moved the camera to point away from them).

Me: “Can I just ask which Member that was?”
Cllr Simon Mountney (Chair), who looked very uncomfortable at me having asked the question, answered with the politician’s answer of “Errm, you can ask, I think if the Member wishes to indicate then they can, if they don’t then they don’t.”

At this point Cllr Bernie Mooney looks straight at the camera (make of that what you will).

So what is the policy on filming meetings? Well, there’s the policy “Lights, Camera, Action” agreed unanimously by 64 councillors in December 2011. As it’s short it’s below:-


(1) Welcomes public engagement in the democratic process. Council notes the growing use of blogs and microblogs by members of the public and notes that many sites now also include video and audio recorded at Council meetings.

(2) Reaffirms its commitment, made last year by the previous Conservative Liberal Democrat administration, to ensure that any member of the public who wishes to film or broadcast from a public Council meeting is encouraged to do so.

(3) However, Council is concerned to protect the rights of members of the public, petitioners and others who are not elected members and may interact with the Council and its committees. Council asks the Director of Law HR and Asset Management to ensure that the Chairs of committees are appropriately briefed.

(4) Council would not wish to see proper debate constrained in any way by the presence of cameras or audio equipment and therefore asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to clarify in writing for members the position on qualified privilege which may go some way to allay fears about unfounded legal actions arising from detailed recordings of proceedings.

(5) Council further asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to draw up a protocol on the use of material designed to prevent any abuse of material which could be harmful to councillors who are legitimately engaged in the processes of democracy.

(6) In the meantime, the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management is asked to re-circulate the original guidance he produced when the issue first arose.

There’s then the amended motion (recording and filming within Council meetings) decided last December agreed by 42 councillors:

(1) Council notes that the Administration has not banned the public from being able to attend and film at meetings.

(2) The issue of filming is under review. The Acting Director of Law, Human Resources & Asset Management has been asked to look at how a balance can be struck between maintaining openness and transparency and addressing concerns among some members about what safeguards can be put in place on how video recordings might be used.

(3) Council notes that the wider issue of the Council streaming its committee meetings is being considered by the cross-party members Equipment Steering Group.

(4) Council asks for the outcome of the review to be presented to the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee for detailed consideration.

On point (4) there have been not just one but two meetings of the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee since last December, at neither one has a “review” been on the agenda.

There are also two Standards Committee decisions on this matter (all of which were agreed by Council without any amendment):

29/9/10 Resolved (12:0)- That this matter be referred to a future meeting to allow a much wider discussion involving all members of the council before a decision is made.

26/1/11 That the report be noted and that no further action be taken regarding this matter.

So the agreed policy (as outlined) is filming is allowed, the proposed review (which never seems to happen) is merely a smokescreen to ban filming yet the public are told Wirral Council has no policy.

As pointed out by the Health and Safety Executive here it’s nothing to do with health and safety, but openness and transparency.

Hmm openness, that rings a bell, ahh yes it’s mentioned in the new Councillor’s Code of Conduct:

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

There’s also some other fine words on the same page about how councillors should “promote and support these principles” (one of which is openness) “by leadership and example”.

However why would a councillor not want what they say at a public meeting on tape?

Well that was revealed shortly after filming stopped.

Cllr Denise Roberts declared a prejudicial interest in item 2 on the agenda as she’s a trustee of Arch initiatives whose funding is to be cut by £327,000. However Cllr Roberts didn’t leave the room as required during item 2.

Cllr Bernie Mooney declared an interest as an employee of Age UK (in the report linked to above they’re down under their previous name of Age Concern). The report detailed the fact that they needed to reduce grant funding by a further £173,000, Age Concern is currently in receipt of six amounts (£128,602.00 (Core costs), £134,569.00 for Advocacy and info, £33,339.00 for carer support and further amounts for two Day Centres and the Older Peoples Parliament).

Cllr Mooney lists her occupation as advice officer at Age UK. So did she declare a prejudicial interest in this agenda item and leave the room as any cuts to funding could affect her day job or at the very least that of her colleagues? No she didn’t leave the room while it was discussed. She declared an interest and then when the item came round for debate said her employer had an advocate paid for through the grant with two temporary ones, but talked about the growing need for these services.

So what does the current Councillors Code of Conduct state about this?

3. As a public figure, your public role may, at times, overlap with your personal and/or professional life and interests however when performing your public role as a member, DO act solely in terms of the public interest and DO NOT act in a manner to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, your friends, your employer or in relation to your business interests.

6. At a meeting where such issues arise, DO declare any personal and/or professional interests relating to your public duties and DO take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7. Certain types of decisions, including those relating to a permission, licence, consent or registration for yourself, your friends, your family members, your employer or your business interests, are so closely tied to your personal and/or professional life that your ability to make a decision in an impartial manner in your
role as a member may be called into question and in turn raise issues about the validity of the decision of the authority. DO NOT become involved in these decisions any more than a member of the public in the same personal and/or
professional position as yourself is able to be and DO NOT vote in relation to such matters. (Further clarification is provided in Schedule 2 of this Code).

9. Where you disclose a disclosable pecuniary interest, you must withdraw from the meeting room, including from the public gallery, during the whole consideration of any item of business in which you have an interest, except where you are permitted to remain as a result of a grant of a dispensation.

Leasowe, Saughall Massie and Moreton Area Forum 27th February 2013 Part 5 | Moreton Day Centre

Leasowe, Saughall Massie and Moreton Area Forum 27th February 2013 Part 5 | Moreton Day Centre

Continued from Part 4.

Graham Hodkinson responded by saying that he didn’t agree and that all the services had enough capacity to downsize and that it was staffing where the savings were.

A member of the public pointed out that Pensby Wood Day Centre had less spare capacity than that would be generated from a closure of a large centre and that a large day centre was more efficient.

Graham Hodkinson said that the most efficient would be one really big day service, but the result of the consultation in 2012 was people wanted smaller services so they were trying to balance the two.

A member of the public asked for financial figures on the cost of running Dale Farm, Royden Park and Best Bites and asked if they were running efficiently or were over budget? They pointed out that users weren’t always being charged and that the closure of a day centre hadn’t been mentioned at the start of the consultation. The same member of the public said they contested the comparison figures dating back to 2004 as in 2004 it wasn’t the same type of service, they also said officers hadn’t replied as to whether the figures were correct or not. The member of the public felt they wouldn’t listen to the view of wanting alternative savings rather than by closing a centre.

Graham Hodkinson said there would be a three-month consultation, in which they would listen to ideas. If it could be shown that alternative savings could be delivered then they had a duty to listen to that. He was happy for Chris Begya and her team to support alternative approaches if it delivered efficiency, however he hadn’t had many direct correspondences (although some had come via councillors). He was keen to ensure information was put out from the centre. Chris Begya said she had written to a couple of people about alternative ideas and was happy to talk and listen.

The member of the public said they had written to Chris and Cllr Phil Davies and asked for a meeting with Cllr Phil Davies and Graham Burgess, but hadn’t written to Graham Hodkinson. A meeting had happened with Chris Begya and a response had been received back, however they challenged everything Graham Hodkinson said. The threat of taking away the day centre was causing anxiety and how could they look forward to the future when next year there could be further cuts?

Graham Hodkinson said they were willing to listen and after the Council decision they had a duty to listen, he said they were happy to offer accountancy support if carers were keen to set out their ideas.

A member of the public said the day centre didn’t require closing and that people should be dealt with as human beings. They said the transport system was ridiculous and that closing a centre would condemn people onto buses to go to different centres which would cause stress for the parents. He expressed the opinion that any parents who had a person with learning disabilities was more expert than he was and that they should be treated as human beings.

Graham Hodkinson said that everybody was entitled to an individual needs assessment, but it was unfortunate that they had to set a legal budget. He said they had done mapping of where people lived compared to which centre they went to and there was no correlation, he agreed the transport was “not quite right” and that they could improve the transport arrangements.

A member of the public said that the depth of feeling had boosted the attendance figures and said they were baffled by some figures that stated that for ninety-one people at Moreton Day Centre there may not be sufficient capacity in the short-term to relocate them and that the projected savings were based on the assumption that all the staff would leave.

Graham Hodkinson said he had no idea what they were referring to. The member of the public said it was part of the staff consultation in December 2012. Chris Begya said the figures were for across the Borough. The member of the public disagreed and said that there had been three options on the sheet. Chris Begya said that it couldn’t be looked at in abstract as there were different figures depending on the options.

The member of public said the option to close Eastham would lead to thirty-six people being relocated and there may not be sufficient capacity, that the option to close Heswall would lead to spending more money expanding Pensby Wood and that there were contradictions in it. Chris Begya responded by saying they were all options and possibilities that could be explored as part of the consultation.

The member of the public said it was bizarre that they’d shut one and make another bigger. Chris Begya said it was part of a staff consultation and when she did the presentation she had explained what she meant.

A member of the public asked where people were going to go? Graham Hodkinson responded by saying that there was the potential for 105 additional half day sessions. He didn’t recognise the consultation figures. Chris Begya pointed out that this was without additional staff put in. A member of public said the figures were contradictory, Mr. Hodkinson responded by saying that if they were different he wanted to understand why.

A member of the public said that 133 people used Moreton, but a number of people were in the community, on Dale Farm, working in the Coop, delivering the Wirral News, but when officers rang up and asked how many people were in the centre they were told 91, they felt because people were in the community they were not counted which led to a big discrepancy.

Graham Hodkinson said that Dale Farm was a service in its own right, but they registered people who attended and didn’t knock off people doing community activity. The member of the public said that managers have said officers phone up asking for figures of how many are in the centre. Chris Begya said they needed to know how many are in the centre and where they were as people paying needed to be charged but that the people in the community did get captured.

The member of public said the ones in the community didn’t mean they were supported by staff as her daughter travelled with two other service users to a church run organisation.

A member of the public asked which way councillors would be voting at the Council meeting on 5th March?
Cllr Blakeley said he would vote against the closure of any large day centres.
Cllr Williams said the same thing.
Cllr Ian Lewis said he would vote not to close any day centres.
Cllr Anita Leech said they had not gone into full discussion, but they were looking at all aspects including the day centres, so she couldn’t give a proper answer.
Cllr Blakeley asked if she was supporting the Labour Cabinet proposals [to close a large day centre]?
Cllr Anita Leech said she wouldn’t like to answer at this point.

A member of the public said that if the day centre was closed it would take away her daughter’s independence as currently she travels there independently. Graham Hodkinson said that currently people travel all over the Borough and referred to some detailed work with Merseytravel. Some more comments were made on travelling.

Cllr Blakeley responded that people travelling independently was their choice, but if you close the centre you remove that choice.

A member of the public said the savings were £2 million over 3 years (approximately £700,000/year), but that extra money would be required in additional transport costs, the consultation and employing transport trainers, so she couldn’t see it saving more than £400,000/year. Therefore she felt the saving was negligible and not worth doing. If they were reducing the staffing, they needed to develop people and maximise their independence skills.

Another member of the public said her sister had profound learning disabilities and went to Moreton Day Centre, she said service users were crying as they don’t know what’s going to happen, where they’d go or what would happen to their friends and that they can’t cope with change.

Graham Hodkinson said in terms of people coping with change, he had spent most of his career closing down services, the first was long stay hospitals, then large residential homes, however he felt that people moved out of institutions “really loved it”. He did say that people on the autistic spectrum had difficulties with change and it had to be well-managed but that others “enjoy it like you and I do”.

A member of the public asked where the choices are, when people would be assessed and what if they say they don’t want to go. She said her son was very upset and he’d gone to the day centre for thirty-three years.

Graham Hodkinson said that he recognised in some cases it was a long period of time, but that they will offer people a service that meets their needs, but that there may well be change.

A member of the public said they had heard a lot of figures, but after next Tuesday how long would it be before they knew which day centre would close? Mr. Hodkinson said that subject to the decision being made, there would be a three-month consultation about closing centre X, meetings would be arranged with carers and this would be done within a week or two of the decision being made.

A member of the public asked where Mr. Hodkinson had got the information from he quoted as fact that people with learning difficulties love change? She said that they do not love change and suffer very badly if there are changes.

Graham Hodkinson said he could provide individual user comments and stories, such as a person who’d been in a residential home for twenty years and had chosen her shopping for the first time in her life.

A member of the public said that they were all scared of change, whether they had a learning disability or not and that change was very uncomfortable. Another member of the public said that change should be through choice and not forced upon people.

A member of the public said that the lady [referred to by Mr. Hodkinson] wrote to him, but their children couldn’t speak. Mr. Hodkinson said she was supported to write it, the member of the public said that if that was the case then it wasn’t her thoughts.

A member of the public said that a family had moved house half a mile and had a son with severe learning disabilities and it had taken months to calm him down. He said he had a daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome and trying to change anything was impossible and until you lived with people 24/7 you didn’t know.

Graham Hodkinson said that he had said people with autistic spectrum disorders which includes Asperger’s.