Teenager sent to health unit for six-week autism check-up when aged 18 left caged with killers 13 years later

Published by The Mail on Sunday (20th January, 2019)

When Kyle Gibbon left school, the local authority suggested the 18-year-old with autism and mild learning disabilities should spend six weeks in an assessment unit to determine his needs for living in the community.

Yet within days, Kyle, who had committed no crime, was sectioned under mental health laws without his family’s knowledge – and 13 years later he is still locked up in an infamous maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Scotland alongside killers and rapists.

His family say he has been beaten, bullied, locked in solitary confinement, forcibly injected with powerful drugs and frequently restrained. He even needed 45 staples and two metal plates inserted in his arm after it was broken in a struggle with staff.

‘I blame myself,’ said his tearful mother Tracey.  ‘I thought I was helping him by letting him go to that unit and listening to experts, but I put the noose around his neck. I have to live with this for the rest of my life.’

Kyle’s story is horrifying. A Freedom of Information request revealed he is one of nine people with autism and learning disabilities inside Carstairs, also known as State Hospital.

The Mail on Sunday has exposed how hundreds more people with autism and learning disabilities are being held in secretive psychiatric units, often in distressing and violent conditions that intensify their mental stresses.

The shocking exposures have sparked four official inquiries in England. Yet as Tracey begs for her son’s freedom, this latest case shows how the scandal has spilled into Scotland too.

Kyle was one of three children. He enjoyed a happy childhood near Aberdeen despite struggling to hold down school places. 

During his teenage years, he thrived at a residential school in Cumbria, routinely taking flights on his own from his home near Aberdeen.

The stress caused by leaving this school was compounded by the death of his father – a tragedy that came just weeks after his favourite teacher passed away. 

So when local officials suggested Kyle attend an assessment and treatment unit in Dundee, Tracey accepted. ‘They said it would be for six weeks. I thought I was doing the right thing to help get him the best possible support,’ she said.

‘But when I went to visit after his first two weeks, they said I could not take Kyle out since they had put a section order on him. He was crying, but they said they would call the police if I removed him. I was absolutely hysterical.’

He was held in the privately run centre for two years. These units are supposed to keep people for short assessment periods over a few months, yet the average stay for people with autism and learning disabilities is five and a half years.

Tracey says he was repeatedly beaten and violently restrained and was once left with bruising on his face. She also claimed he was heavily sedated and bullied by mocking staff.

Finally he was moved to a hospital in Aberdeen, where he was prepared for release. 

A national charity helped find him a flat with support staff and Kyle enjoyed trips to the cinema and dinners with his family while he helped furnish his prospective home.

His mother claimed everything changed before he moved into the flat after a young psychiatrist intervened and said Kyle could not leave the hospital.

‘He was kept in a tiny room for three months, drugged and injected all the time,’ said Tracey, 55, a former caterer on offshore oil rigs. ‘They put his food on the floor like an animal.

‘Then they did an assessment when he was drugged out of his face and the doctor said he tried to assault her. But he has never been violent. 

The next thing, two members of staff drove him down to Carstairs – and that was nine years ago.’

Tracey added: ‘It’s horrible, utterly horrible, what has happened to him yet no one seems to listen. He has been abused, assaulted, endlessly restrained and kept in a cell with nothing to do.’

His arm snapped after it was twisted up his back during a scuffle with staff. Then Kyle was convicted over an assault on a staff member, an episode that occurred in 2016 in which he was once again being restrained. 

On another occasion, a notorious rapist made him beg for forgiveness on his hands and knees for not passing the sugar bowl quickly enough.

Tracey is distraught and said the impact had devastated her entire family, with her younger son unable to bear seeing his big brother in such a place. ‘It is barbaric – he has a life sentence simply for the crime of having learning disabilities,’ she said.

She was left even more disturbed after her last seven-hour round-trip to visit Kyle at Christmas. ‘He has bald patches on his head after starting to pull out hair in distress,’ Tracey said. ‘He says he wants to die, so now I live in fear of that call.’

Many of those locked up do not even have families to fight for their freedom. Yet in England, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is backtracking on pledges to empty secure units of such patients. 

And in Scotland, it has emerged more than half the under-18s sectioned under mental health laws have an autistic spectrum disorder.

‘This is a heartbreaking story,’ said Alexander Burnett, a Tory MSP who has taken up the case. ‘Kyle is held with some of Scotland’s most dangerous criminals. He should be reassessed and allowed to return home.’

Mr Burnett added that since raising the case, he had been approached by many more families in similar positions. ‘This simply should not be allowed to continue.’

The mother of another Scottish teenager sectioned last year said she was left terrified after seeing her severely autistic son brutally held face-down by five adults soon after he was locked up in a secure unit and then forcibly injected with drugs.

‘The first time I saw him there he was dribbling and could not lift his head,’ she said. ‘Now he is so scared he lies on the ground when he hears alarms or footsteps.’

Carstairs declined to comment on Kyle’s case on the grounds of patient confidentiality.

225 patients restrained by ‘chemical cosh’ in one month

Youngsters with autism and learning disabilities are being violently restrained and given ‘chemical coshes’ in secretive NHS-funded psychiatric units, new figures reveal.

A shocking 2,700 instances of restraint on 4,970 people with autism and learning disabilities were recorded in the units in just one month. Children and teenagers are most likely to face ‘restrictive intervention’.

Among all age groups there were 285 instances of ‘prone’ restraint, a brutal face-down method due to have been phased out five years ago.

There were also 195 cases of seclusion and segregation, and 225 of ‘chemical’ restraint, with patients forcibly injected with sedatives.

The figures from last October were released last week by NHS Digital and analysed by Chris Hatton, professor of disability at Lancaster University.

‘This is shocking,’ said Prof Hatton. ‘This data shows a lot of people being held and restraint is used all too readily.’

The figures do not cover seven of the most controversial private operators.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock ordered the Care Quality Commission to probe restraint and solitary confinement after The Mail on Sunday exposed widespread abuse.


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