Sam lived with his mum. He was a big lad and got excluded from his special school at 16. She was finding it more challenging to look after him - he’d run away and I’d have to go looking for him.

He’d gone to respite for many years but he had got too much for them. His mum called the community team in and we agreed for him to go into a place – Winterbourne View - to be assessed. We thought this would be to find out what his needs were, what support he needed. We thought this would help Sam.

I went to see him a few days after. I was welcomed by a nurse and allowed to go and see Sam on the ward. Everyone was friendly, nothing seemed untoward. Sam’s mum went to meetings and I visited and was able to take Sam out.

I started seeing changes in Sam. Not just the way he was, but his physical appearance. I arrived to take him out to the pictures and when he came downstairs he was a mess. He had food on his top. I took him back to his room to get changed. Things started to change.

We stopped being allowed on the wards. We had to meet in the foyer and eventually they provided a visitor’s room. They’d bring Sam down and he would have marks on his wrists and neck – all he kept saying had happened was ‘restraint’. When I asked what for he said ‘bad, bad’. I knew Sam could be challenging and I trusted they would be following good practice.

Sam started demonstrating some restraints on me. One time he grabbed my arms with such force, looked straight into my eyes and told me I was going down. I said to his mum we’ve got see about getting him out of here. His mum looked at loads of places and the social worker was supportive. When the transition team went to visit him at Winterbourne View they raised concerns – they couldn’t get records, it was a closed shop, staff didn’t want to speak to them.

Sam was at Winterbourne View for 2 years and he left before the Panorama programme. When Panorama came out, I looked back through all Sam’s records in detail. I saw the high scale of restraints – 45 in just a few months – and all the medication he was on. I remembered when he had grabbed my arms and realised he had been mimicking what was happening to him or maybe crying out for help.

The place Sam went to live next worked really well. He is still there now which says something about the place. The owner had his own child with special needs. He had the right values and could relate to all the parents. He got them involved. He made time for Sam and the others living there and for the parents. We had his mobile number. He asked me to represent other parents and be a safeguarding parent rep. Sam has prospered.

He was one of the lucky ones. It’s a proper home, a proper house, not a hospital environment - it’s completely different. To look after someone with Sam’s needs you need to have special skills. The staff didn’t just see it as a ‘job’ - they took time, and they’d ring us if things were wrong. We were phoned by the social worker and told the Panorama episode about Winterbourne View was going to air. We were told we needed to be prepared.

After 15 minutes watching it I was on the phone to Sam’s mum. It was frightening what we saw. It shocked the nation. His sister was crying – and finding it very hard to cope. I broke down a couple of times. Looking back at everything – as a parent your job is to protect your child. I felt like I failed on that. I should have spotted the signs instead I took what staff and the doctors were saying on face value.

It really affected us all and it really hit his sister big time. We are never going to really know the full scale of what Sam went through. Sam has been in his home for over 10 years and I could count on one hand how much they have had to restrain him. Me and other families fought for accountability so it wouldn’t happen again.

There was the court case. I spent years pushing for the psychiatrist at Winterbourne View to be held to account by the General Medical Council but he wasn’t. Winterbourne View took over my life. I was on the news all the time. The anger didn’t go away. My health got affected, my job and finances .

Eventually after five years I had to stop. What’s hurt me is I’m tired of seeing all the reports and promises and nothing being done. Words on paper but no action. It shouldn’t have to be families that have to fight and campaign . We have to deal with our own emotions and our children’s. It should be the people in power. We’ve still got places like Winterbourne and still got abuse in these places. 

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