Hillingdon Council held autistic man Steven Neary unlawfully

A west London council acted unlawfully by refusing to allow a 21-year-old autistic man to be placed in the care of his father, the High Court ruled.

Hillingdon Council detained Steven Neary, of Uxbridge, for almost a year after he was taken into a "positive behaviour unit" in December 2009.

Mr Neary's father Mark, 52, said he felt relieved after the ruling, which he described as "fantastic".

The council said it had apologised to the family for letting them down.

The judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, concluded that the council's use of a "deprivation of liberty" order unlawfully deprived Mr Neary of his freedom.

Mark Neary told the Court of Protection that he viewed the care by the council as a temporary move and expected his son to return home by January 2010.

But the council told the court that staff had concerns about his son's "challenging" behaviour and weight, and argued that the care was intended to be for a longer period.

'Lost my son'

Mr Neary, a counsellor, said: "Hopefully people will read this judgment and be prepared to fight for the rights of their kids.

"I knew Steven should be at home because I know Steven.

"I was always outnumbered. I would go to case conferences but they were just about me agreeing to whatever they (council staff) had decided. I would come out of these meetings in despair.

"I don't think Steven really understands what it has all been about. For him he just likes seeing pictures of himself on television and the internet."

Earlier Mr Neary said there had always been problems with his son's behaviour around Christmas time because "his routine gets broken".

Mr Neary said he had been unwell and intended Steven to go to his "normal respite place" for three days but the council moved him to the behaviour unit.

He said the council's decision to move him and the deprivation of liberty orders had left him feeling "helpless".

He said: "I felt I had let him down, lost my own son.

"Steven still needs a care package from the council so I have to consider how we can rebuild the relationship."

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said: "Hillingdon had no lawful basis for keeping Steven away from his family between 5 January and 23 December 2010.

"It acted as if it had the right to make decisions about Steven.

"It tried to wear down (Mark) Neary's resistance, stretching its relationship with him to almost breaking point.

But the judge added: "Anyone who believes that the work is simple and the right decision's always obvious is mistaken.

"In the vast majority of cases, it is carried out without fuss, fanfare or public congratulation, but that can be forgotten when attention understandably turns to cases where things have gone wrong.

'Safe and happy'

Following the ruling Linda Sanders, director of social care at Hillingdon Council, said: "I would like to apologise to Steven and his father.

"It is clear that there have been times when we have let both of them down.

"Cases such as Steven's are hugely complex and we always have to carefully balance what we think is right for an individual with the wider issues such as the safety of the public.

"As the judge has said in his findings, at all times my staff were genuinely committed to ensuring that we did the right thing for Steven and had his best interests at heart.

"We recognise that we need to improve our processes and that we should have kept Steven's father more involved during the time that we cared for Steven."

She said the "failings were collective errors of judgment" and the local authority was reviewing its training for staff regarding the Mental Capacity Act and deprivation of liberty safeguards.

"Steven has now been at home for over six months and we will do all we can to support him and his father so they can live a safe and happy life, which has always been our intention," she said.

Steven Neary has been staying with his father since he left a local authority unit under an interim court order that allowed him to return home in December 2010.

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