This is the man whose name I could not find. It was on a news item that preceded a programme I had recorded and I am relieved that I did not imagine it but horrified that the details were far worse than I had thought. here are some quotes from the newspaper:
‘Michael Gilbert, 26, was used as a ‘dogsbody and slave’, shackled to a bed and attacked by the group’s pet pit bulls.’
‘Mr Gilbert finally died after a new form of torture was devised, involving members of the family jumping on his stomach.’
‘They then hacked his corpse into pieces at their home in Luton, Bedfordshire, before throwing it into a lake known as the Blue Lagoon in nearby Arlesey.’
This group of individuals even invented a ‘game show’ in which people were paid to assault him, and they chased him down when he tried to escape. The police apparently felt unable to help Michael because he told them things would be worse for him if they did, an example of the application of the legislation around consent that misses by a mile the spirit that brought it into being.
People with learning disabilities used to be unseen members of our communities, hidden away in institutions with no voice and little contact with their more advantaged neighbours. The changes in philosophy that came with Wolfensberger’s ‘Normalisation’ thrust in the early 1980s led to closure of institutions and the end of inappropriate incarceration for people whose only ‘fault’ was one of intellectual limitation.
I have worked in some of those institutions and I have also worked in services at the leading edge of change. In the 21st century, it is the norm for people to live as independently as possible with support from agencies set up to assist. It gives people pride. It gives them a sense of purpose. It enables families to live as units and not separated entities – one part able, the other not.
Unfortunately, it also brings people into contact with society’s exploiters, abusers, and manipulative psychopathic killers. People who use drugs that obliterate any sense of decency and empathy. People who are so distanced from their humanity that they can imprison, torture, rape, and terrorise vulnerable individuals unable to fight back.
Today I tried to find the details of another death but all trace of it had vanished, due probably to world and national events. A volcano causing travel chaos and our political leaders on the trail of electoral glory. This man has vanished from sight, my sight anyway, and so I am unable to give him just this tiny acknowledgment. It occurred to me that many such deaths and tragedies may go unremarked and so the shame of our society’s behaviour will remain unaddressed because, well, they don’t add up to much do they, if their headlines don’t last? Well they might if they are all on one page.
This new page will keep a record, a dishonourable record, of the names of people with learning disabilities who have been murdered, raped, or tortured. It starts now, from 2010. I hope it’s short and I hope it gets shorter. If you have details that are reported in the press, please send the link and I will put the person’s name here so that they are never forgotten.
The news item appeared a couple of days ago. It reported on the perpetrators of years of abuse and dreadful attacks made on a vulnerable man who was unable to defend himself. This family had taken him in when he was homeless but not, it seems, for his care and protection, more to meet their own needs for a servant who could be scapegoated and beaten for amusement.
The Court was shown mobile phone footage of this man being hit in the face, seeing the blows coming but having neither the wit nor the will to protect himself. He died, it seems, after a particularly vicious assault, the details of which escape me. I have searched for news items – this was only two or three days ago – but there are none. It would appear that this man’s death has been lost to a combination of volcanic ash and the novelty of seeing our political leaders in hot debate live on the telly. I can’t even remember his name.
I remember the video images though. I won’t forget the images.