Log In

Reset Password

Gisborne couple fight for son

FORMER Gisborne couple Dave and Marlene Peacock are in the national media spotlight as they fight for their autistic son Ashley who has spent two-and-a-half years in a 10sqm room in a mental heath facility in Porirua.

“Going public is the last resort,’’ said Mr Peacock, who originally spoke to the New Zealand Herald and yesterday was being approached by National Radio’s Checkpoint, Newstalk ZB and other news outlets.

Opposition politicians are also entering the debate. Ashley, aged 37, suffers from autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, mild intellectual disability and other mental health problems.

But Mr Peacock said he was speaking out for other people with autism and intellectual disability.

“There are other cases, Ashley is an extreme case," he said.

Ashley was admitted to the Tawhirimatea unit in Porirua, run by Capital and Coast District Health, in 2006 as a compulsory patient under the Mental Heath Act. Mr and Mrs Peacock decided to move to Wellington in 2008.

“Ashley wasn’t getting out, so we moved down there," Mr Peacock said.

The Peacocks had lived in Gisborne since 1983. Mr Peacock formerly worked for Gisborne District Council, and in his retirement, still does some consultancy work for them. He said Ashley was not easy to look after in Gisborne.

Difficulty getting respite careAnother difficulty was getting respite care when they needed a break. Since 2010 Ashley has spent two-and-a half years in a seclusion unit at Tawhirimatea - the 10sqm room - where he originally was getting only 30 minutes of exercise each day.

That has since improved to 90 minutes. The room consists of a plastic-covered mattress and a urine bottle. He has been placed there for the protection of himself and others, say medical authorities.

The Peacocks are prohibited from visiting their son when he is in the seclusion unit. Mr Peacock said the explanation given was that staff had to protect the privacy of other patients.

There are three seclusion units and the other two are not always occupied, but the Peacocks are still not allowed to visit.

“So the explanation doesn’t bear scrutiny,” Mr Peacock said.

A number of national and international institutions such as the United Nations, Mental Health Foundation and Disability Rights Commission and Human Rights Commission have either have condemned seclusion or called for Ashley to be released.

The National Intellectual Disability Care Agency said Ashley’s aggression was due to the mismatch between his care and his needs.

Dog treated with more dignityMr Peacock said his dog, living in a kennel in Gisborne, was treated with more dignity.

In a finding supported by the Peacocks, Ombudsman Ron Paterson said seclusion had contributed to Ashley’s condition, and the Peacocks had their hopes raised in 2013 after Paterson’s report. Lawyers have compared seclusion to imprisonment.

A provider prepared to have Ashley was found, but psychiatrists said he had to be less disturbed before being released. Mr Peacock said his son was trapped in a vicious cycle, with seclusion contributing to his condition.

He believes another obstacle is “the risk-adverse’’ nature of the health system, with medical authorities aware of a number of cases before the coroner involving mentally ill patients.

In March of this year a review found Ashley could go through a transition programme involving ‘‘a day base’’ outside Tawhirimatea.

Mr Peacock said his understanding was that nothing had happened because of funding problems, but yesterday he heard health minister Dr Jonathan Coleman speaking on radio disputing that.

Mr Peacock said he had approached MPs for assistance in the past.

“But it’s a waste of time. They say it's a clinical matter," he said.

The Peacocks would like their son to be relocated to a safe house in the country. Ashley, who grew up in Makaraka, loves the countryside and horses, which he gets to visit each day at Porirua.

The Peacocks say Ashley is getting better and, as they are now in their 70s, they are desperate to get their son out of Tawhirimatea and into a better environment while they still can.

Minister urged to interveneby Kirsty Johnston, NZME

OPPOSITION parties are urging Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to intervene and remove an autistic man from the tiny, isolated unit where he has been held for five years.

Ashley Peacock, 37, lives in almost permanent seclusion at a mental health rehabilitation facility in Porirua, allowed just 90 minutes a day outside.

Despite top-level warnings that his treatment is a breach of human rights, more than half of Ashley’s time on the “de-escalation” wing at the unit has been confined to a single, cell-like room containing nothing but a plastic-covered mattress and a urine bottle.

He sleeps there and when staff order it, can be locked in for long periods — including a two-and-a-half-year stint with less than 30 minutes out each day for exercise.

Wellington MP Grant Robertson has written to Dr Coleman, asking him to intervene.

“I understand that you will not want to interfere with clinical decision-making in an individual case, but Ashley’s case is such that I believe you must actively involve yourself.”

Mr Robertson said he believed Ashley’s treatment was against human rights “and such action is not befitting the values most New Zealanders would support”.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said Dr Coleman was able, under section 32 of the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act, to give a directive to the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) to move Ashley out of seclusion.

“The Minister of Health has specific powers to direct the health board to act and this is the sort of extreme case that requires the Minister to do so,” Mr Hague said.

New Zealand had made an international commitment to end the use of seclusion, as it constituted a form of torture, he said.

“People shouldn’t suffer the kind of treatment that Ashley Peacock has been subjected to because the National Government refuses to fund mental health services properly.”

So far, Dr Coleman has only said Ashley’s case was “very complex” and he had “huge sympathy” for Mr Peacock’s parents.

“There are no easy answers in this case and my understanding is that health officials have been doing their very, very best in what are very difficult circumstances.”

The minister said Mr Peacock’s treatment was not the result of lack of funding. Seclusion has been found to be traumatising for both staff and patients, and is considered a form of torture by the United Nations.

The practice is subject to a reduction policy in New Zealand, and is monitored by Crimes of Torture Act inspectors from the Ombudsman’s office. They, as well as the Human Rights Commission and dozens of advocates and other experts, believe seclusion is still over-used and have repeatedly highlighted Ashley’s case as a concern.

The head of advocacy for IHC, Trish Grant, has been trying to help Ashley.

“He shouldn’t be stuck in an environment that is exacerbating his condition. It is not the right place for him. It was never the right place.”

Autism advocate Wendy Duff, part of a group working with Ashley’s family, said it was one of the worst cases she had seen.


SECLUSION: Dave and Marlena Peacock with a portrait of their son Ashley, who has been locked up in Porirua's Regional Rehabilitation Unit Tawhirimatea for over 10 years. New Zealand Herald picture
Ashley with his father Dave and one of two nurses who constantly keep watch over him, feeding horses in a paddock near Porirua's Regional Rehabilitation Unit Tawhirimatea. New Zealand Herald picture
Photos of happier days from the family album.