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Friday, 19 October 2018

Autistic woman 'obsessed with men' at centre of complex court proceedings

Written by Brian Farmer and Eleanor Barlow

An autistic woman who is obsessed with men is at the centre of proceedings in a specialist court.

Social workers say the woman behaves in a "socially inappropriate" fashion in public places.

Council social services bosses began litigation in the Court of Protection, where judges consider issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions, five years ago because the woman was thought to be at risk of sexual harm if out and about on her own.

Her case is due to be reviewed by a senior judge in the near future.

Detail of the proceedings emerged on Thursday, when case documents were released on the order of one of the Court of Protection's most senior judges, after a newspaper raised concern about the way the woman had been cared for.

A report in The Times said relatives had accused care authorities of approving an experiment which had led to the "pimping out of a high-vulnerable young woman".

Mr Justice Hayden, who is vice president of the Court of Protection and also sits in the Family Division of the High Court, said documents prepared by parties involved for hearings, plus orders made by judges, should be made available to journalists.

The woman, who is now 23, has not been identified but documents show that Manchester City Council (pictured) has welfare responsibility for her and had begun Court of Protection litigation.

The council said, in a statement, that the story was "complex".

"This is a difficult case in which various parties have had to weigh the young woman's freedom against the need for restrictions in the interests of her safety," said the statement.

"The council's priority throughout has been to keep her safe from harm, acting in her best interests, and any suggestions to the contrary are a misunderstanding of this complex story."

Barrister Conrad Hallin, who represented Manchester Council, outlined background in a written case synopsis prepared for a recent hearing in Manchester, which was overseen by Judge Jonathan Butler.

He said the woman had a learning disability, and IQ of 52, and indicated that she had been in council care since she was a child.

Mr Hallin said as the woman reached "sexual maturity", she was considered to be in a "small percentage of high functioning young women with autism whose obsessional interest relates to men".

Council bosses had launched Court of Protection proceedings in 2013 because she was thought to be at "significant risk" of sexual harm in "allowed unescorted access to the community".

Three years ago, a judge had concluded that the woman lacked the mental capacity to make decisions on a number of issues, including "her contact with men" and whether or not she had access to mobile phones or social networking sites".

The judge also decided that it would be in her best interests if she lived in a residential placement with locked doors.

He concluded that she should have "1:1 care" inside, and "2:1 care" outside.

Mr Hallin said in late 2015 the woman formed a relationship with a man and became engaged.

He said the woman's representatives indicated a wish to challenge any restriction on her freedom to marry and "capacity building work" in relation to marriage and contraception had taken place.

In late 2016, a consultant psychiatrist had told a judge that the woman had the mental capacity to marry, engage in sex and contraception decisions - although she still lacked the mental capacity to "decide on contact with men".

The woman had married in 2017 and she and her husband were allowed to spend significant amounts of time alone as part of a care package, provide by a specialist company called Engage Support.

Mr Hallin said it had been envisaged that levels of support would be reduced over time to allow the woman to move towards "an independent married life as far as possible".

He said earlier this summer, with the approval of a judge, Engage Support had created a "visitors' plan" with the woman.

But he said "matters" had not been "plain sailing" and he outlined a number "incidents".

In August, a "best interest decision" was made to cancel the woman's "planned activities in the community" and Engage Support said they would no longer allow men to visit.

Documentation showed that a psychiatrist had told Judge Butler in September that there was no evidence that the woman was able to "learn from past behaviours".

He said exposing her to a level of risk which might lead to sexual abuse or violence as a "learning experience" was "open to substantial criticism and frankly unprofessional".

Mr Hallin said the council thought a judge based in the Family Division of the High Court was best-placed to review the case.

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