Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog on the Early Morning Breakfast Show

Hearing Mr Bruce Willing on the BBC Radio Jersey, it was interesting to note what he omitted to say, as much as what he said, rather like Sherlock Holmes famous dog which had not barked in the night time. He was speaking about HG, the lady mentioned in the Korris report, who was at the centre of the Dean's suspension on March.
Deportation and Hobson's Choice.
He said - quite correctly - that HG was not deported. True, but she was given a choice between being bound over for three years to leave the Island, or to be sentenced to a spell of imprisonment. That is not exactly what one might term a free choice.
In the old days, those accused of witchcraft would be asked to confess, and face possible banishment or death, or be returned to the dark damp dungeons at Gorey Castle on meagre rations of bread and water. That wouldn't be considered much of a choice either.
I thought of that when considering that HG's options, like those of old, were severely limited. Naturally, she was given legal counsel to accept the lesser sentence, but it meant that she was effectively deported. She had no option to stay and remain free.
That was something Mr Willing failed to mention.
Mental Illness and Autism
Mr Willing was very critical of the Korris report, and he seemed to lay the blame for the events leading to the suspension of the Dean at the feet of HG, whom he said was suffering from "mental illness". At no point did he mention her autism, or show any inkling of understanding how this can effect behaviour, and yet this is mentioned in some depth in the Korris report:
The Korris report has this to say about HG's autism, and how it effected her behaviour towards others:
"There was a startling incongruence in H.G.'s presentation which proved confusing, her behaviour could be childlike and she was prone to hysterical outbursts. H.G. is intelligent and is articulate on paper, but she takes things literally, with no nuances, and her resort to writing became relentless and repetitive. Francesca Happé, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Institute of Psychology Kings College London, describes the autism spectrum as frequently demonstrating rigid repetitive behaviour and a misunderstanding of social cues"
It is clear from reading the Korris report that, as diagnosed, HG is autistic, which is why she cannot manage social interactions at all well. Autism is not a mental illness, and it is rather ill-informed for Mr Willing to imply that it is by describing HG as having a mental illness.
By way of comparison, Oliver Sachs "An Anthropologist on Mars" describes meeting Temple Grandin, an autistic women who is an animal scientist noted for her work on humane ways of cattle slaughter for food in the USA. Grandin says that "the part of other people that has emotional relationships is not part of me", and Sachs described a visit to her house in which she showed none of the usual social cues - saying hello, telling someone to take a seat, offering them a hot drink.
Temple Grandin told Sachs about how her autism effected her - "Adolescence also taught her that not only her emotional state but her whole mental and physical being were very finely tuned and could easily be thrown out of balance by certain sensory stimuli, stress, exhaustion, or conflict"
And Sachs comments on how difficult it was for Grandin to interact with other people and pick up the social cues that non-autistic people take for granted.
"She was celibate. Nor had she ever dated. She found such interactions completely baffling and too complex to deal with; she was never sure what was being said, or implied, or asked, or expected. She did not know, at such times, where people were coming from, or their assumptions or presuppositions, or intentions. This was common with autistic people, she said."
And he also comments on the kinds of behaviour which may at times seem bizarre to outsiders
"An autistic person can have violent passions, intensely charged fixations and fascinations, or, like Temple, an almost overwhelming tenderness and concern in certain areas. In autism, it is not affect in general that is faulty but affect in relation to complex human experiences, social ones predominantly"
But that is a genetic condition, not a mental illness, even though it is easy to see how it might be confused with one by someone who has never come across an autistic individual, and who has never read up on the subject. As the Korris report provides some pointers in this regard, the narrative which includes HG's autism contradicts Mr Willing's belief that HG was a mentally ill, and hence disturbed, individual, whose own words could effectively be ignored.
As HG has recently said in an open letter on Bob Hill's blog
"To conclude on mental illness, I am diagnosed as free from it. not only was I diagnosed as free from mental illness in a psychiatric report done in La Moye prison, but again in Winchester five months later, again in Sussex a few months following, and again in a comprehensive report from my current clinical psychologist who specialises in autism and trauma and has been in practice for 20 years."
Should someone in Mr Willings position be so out of touch as to be unaware of what autism can be like? Even when films like Rain Man and Snow Cake have provided some glimpse to a wider audience? The Korris report mentions and explains about autism.
But autism was something Mr Willing also failed to mention.
A Lone Cry or Warning Note
Lastly, I'd like to look at one common feature of narratives critical of HG. Like Mr Willing, they call her an "unfortunate woman" and suggest that her complaint against the churchwarden was ill founded. It was, after all, one person's word against another, a singular complaint.
But consider that the Korris report has this to comment about the churchwarden in question:
"E.Y.'s behaviour towards women had been a matter of concern at St for some time with comments about it coming from various sources. In a telephone call to the Safeguarding Advisor J.F. in December 2008 the Dean R.K. says that E.Y. had been spoken to about the fact he is too tactile, stands too close to women, touches too much/inappropriately.  His manner was deemed to be inappropriate to such an extent that he was chaperoned within the church when in close proximity to women. This was an informal but explicit policy of the parish and at interview the Dean of Jersey acknowledged that it was known to him."
No one has, as far as I am aware, come forward to say that this chaperoning did not happen, that the man in question had not been spoken to, or that the policy of keeping an eye on him was not in place, or not known to the Dean.
While this cannot be taken as evidence of the veracity of HG's complaints, they illustrate very clearly that she was not, as she has been portrayed, a lone voice in the wilderness. She may have been the only one to take the matter up with the Dean, but clearly the description of the churchwarden who "stands to close to women, touches too much / inappropriately" suggests that all was not well. The chaperoning was a practice which was deemed acceptable, but which was certainly questionable. She may have been a lone complainant, but the Korris report paints a picture, which no one has refuted, of a warning note sounded.
As might be expected, any mention of the churchwarden at the centre of complaints was not mentioned by Mr Willing.
Just because the Bishop may have had serious faults over his dealings with the Church in Jersey, and also over the release of the Korris report, this should not blind us to the fact that there were clearly deficiencies to be addressed. By making the matter simply an ecclesiastical debate over jurisdiction, there is a danger that this will be overlooked, just as the circumstances of HG's effective deportation have been sidelined.
Mr Willings own interview focused on the debate over control and power. It never mentioned the choices faced by HG in the Courts. It never mentioned her autism. It never mentioned any deficiencies which the case had thrown up in safeguarding. On those matters there was silence. 
To read HG in her own words, read:

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