Taking Ashley Peacock's case to the UN

Parents make last-ditch attempt to get help for their son.

Parents make last-ditch attempt to get help for their son.

Ashley as a 28-year-old man laughing and smiling and in good health after a day of fishing. Ten years later after years of being kept in seclusion, Ashley’s health has born the brunt with weight gain and a loss of seven teeth, post-traumatic stress disorder and a mood his parents describe as “flat”. He is only happy when he is allowed in the outdoors. Pictures supplied.

GISBORNE couple Dave and Marlena Peacock have been invited to write to the United Nations about the sub-standard care of their son in the New Zealand mental health system.

After meeting with a UN representative currently in New Zealand, the Peacocks will sit down in the Titahi Bay flat they are renting and write down the injustices they feel their son has been put through.

Ashley Peacock, 38, is a resident of Tawhirimatea, a secure mental health unit in Porirua.

He has been diagnosed with the neurological condition autism and has a mild intellectual disability. Since his incarceration he has also developed post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

A petition calling for Government intervention gathered 5000 signatures and was recently tabled in Parliament.

But despite the urgency given to Ashley’s case by Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier, it has stalled at the parliamentary stage with no time frame on when, if any, recommendations will be made about the future of Ashley.

Under Section 32 of The Public Health and Disability Act 2000, Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman has the power to prioritise Ashley's case and start his immediate reintegration back into the community.

Mr Coleman has delegated Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga to decide Ashley’s future.

The petition has been referred to the Select Committee and Mr Lotu-Iiga’s office said it would be inappropriate for him to comment while this process was under way.

Ashley is under the care of Capital and Coast District Health Board.

General manager Mental Health Addictions and Intellectual Disability Services 3DHB Nigel Fairley said they and the Ministry of Health were continuing to work together on a reintegration plan for Ashley.

But that is news to Ashley’s parents.

Only a mattress and a bottle

Between 2010 and 2013 Ashley was kept in a three-by-four-metre seclusion room with only a mattress and a bottle to go to the toilet in.

Sometimes he did not get out of the room for days, even weeks.

His access outside during that period was contained to a “chicken coop” — an exercise yard with wire mesh on top and a small window in one corner.

He was confined like that for three years.

It was during this time that two visits were made by the Chief Ombudsman’s office for a paper called Report on an Unannounced Visit to Tawhirimatea Unit under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989. It was released under the Official Information Act in June.

In it Judge Boshier described Ashley’s care as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.”

For almost 20 years Mr and Mrs Peacock have exhausted every avenue.

Last-ditch attempt

Writing to the United Nations is a last-ditch attempt to get better living conditions for their only child.

The Ombudsman report in February confirmed what Ashley’s parents already knew, what the Human Rights Commission had also said and what advocates, lawyers and autism experts had all been saying for years.

Ashley urgently needed to come out.

Despite those requests, and the petition, Health Committee & Transport and Industrial Relations committee deputy clerk Kelly Traynor said there was no report-back date for the petition at this stage.

“We do not know when the committee will report back on this petition,” she said.

Ashley’s parents are in their early 70s and want to make sure their son is in good management before they “shuffle off”, as Dave puts it.

“Both of us are not in good health and we are getting on. That is why we have been pushing so hard.”

Over the years there have been flurries of activity where hopes were raised, then quiet periods of recovery after hopes were dashed. It is an emotional roller coaster the Peacocks refuse to get off until they have made sure Ashley is transferred into a better living environment.

“Ashley has a great love of animals. He just loves the outdoors.”

The family enjoyed an outdoor lifestyle as Ashley grew up in Gisborne.

Friends of his still in Gisborne remember growing up beside him. They say he had an affinity with animals and loved to fish and surf.

Mrs Peacock acknowledges Ashley was a challenge from the start but the family were happy. Howver, his behaviour became more difficult to manage resulting in periods in Ward 11 at Gisborne Hospital.

Mrs Peacock came home once to find all their possessions piled up high and the floor awash with water as Ashley obsessively cleaned the house.

Reluctantly, when Ashley was 18, his parents realised they needed help to care for their much-loved only child.

But instead of respite, once Ashley came under the care of Capital and Coast DHB Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Directorate, which covers the Gisborne dsitict, it became a constant struggle to bring his care up to an acceptable level.

Mrs Peacock says Ashley is grateful for his parents continuing to fight for better care for him.

Parents relocated to be closer to him

Since 2014 Ashley has been able to enjoy 90 minutes outside seven days a week while. His parents relocated to be closer to him and visit four times a week for 90 minutes each time.

On top of that Ashley also receives three visits a week from Community Connections, who also spend 90 minutes with him each time.

These are the only times he is allowed off the campus although he does get to go into the tennis court area at times and occasionally goes for short walks around the campus with staff.

It is a vast improvement from how Ashley used to live but he is still confined to the de-escalation unit, which can house up to three other mental health patients at the same time.

However, Ashley has an auditory processing disorder. When other patients are in the de-escalation unit their constant screaming can trigger bad reactions in him.

Mr Peacock marvels at his son’s resilience.

“He copes amazingly well considering what he has been through. Sometimes we can’t believe it ourselves.

“When the Ombudsman came out strongly in support of us, that was a breakthrough. We could hardly believe what was happening to Ashley so we were not surprised when some friends expressed doubt. It was nice to be vindicated in a way.”

They “fought and fought” for access to Ashley’s room for 10 years. But it was only after media exposure they were let inside.

Mrs Peacock said his bedroom was now a small room with a bed, an improvement from the mattress and urine bottle.

“It is a three or four-metre room with a plastic table, plastic chair and squab seat in it. That’s called the lounge and other than that he can wander around the corridors in the unit but he only goes outdoors when we or the Community Connections guys go to visit him,” says Marlena.

Ashley is aware of the petition but his level of understanding and insight is low, says Mr Peacock.

Kept in seclusion

He is kept in seclusion when he lashes out and has hit staff in the past. The captivity upsets him more but he is not released back into the four-room de-escalation unit until he has calmed down — a situation Dave calls a “catch 22”.

A National Intellectual Disability Care Agency report done by three expert reviewers said much of Ashley’s impulsive and unpredictable aggression was due to the mismatch between the care he needed and the service he was getting at Tawhirimatea.

It was rare for him to lash out at anyone outside the hospital grounds, it said.

His parents acknowledge his behaviour can be difficult to handle but say he can also be “well and truly delightful”.
He is definitely damaged by his experience but his parents see the bigger picture.

For eight years they fought to have Ashley seen by a dentist. Their requests were refused because clinical teams said it was too difficult and risky to let Ashley out — that he could assault someone.

In May, he received dental care for the first time in eight years.

He needed three hours of surgery to remove seven rotten teeth, part of his jaw bone and a sinus abscess.

“Think of all the pain he must have been in with all those rotten teeth and an abscess in his head.”

Improvement after dental care

Marlena said since Ashley received dental care he did not lash out again for four months until an isolated incident last week.

“Ashley wanted a comb and they couldn’t find one on the unit. It might seem relatively small but when you’ve got autism it is those things that can throw you.”

This latest incident also came after Ashley had been kept indoors for a few days because of bad weather.

“He would have got cabin fever like anybody would.”

The Peacocks used to take turns to travel from Gisborne to Porirua for six weeks at a time.

But they decided to have a bigger presence after a 2008 “restraint procedure” during which Ashley’s radial nerve was smashed and his humerus fractured.

Ashley needed surgery and six months of intensive physiotherapy.

For the last two years they have both been down living in Wellington full-time and have lived in three different flats over that time.

“This wasn’t in our retirement plan,” says Mr Peacock.

Mr Peacock hopes to return to their Gisborne home soon as the warmer climate will help her health.

But the pair are reluctant to leave until Ashley has a better place to call home.



MoH developing package for Ashley's care

Ministry of Health director of mental health Dr John Crawshaw says all those who are concerned for Ashley Peacock’s health and welfare recognise his needs as complex.

“A package for his care continues to be developed, with combined input from the Ministry of Health and Capital & Coast DHB and consultation with Mr Peacock’s family,” said Dr Crawshaw. “The priority continues to be to developing a care package which is clinically appropriate, viable, sustainable and safe.”

Dr Crawshaw said the appropriate funding arrangements would then be put in place to ensure the DHB and Disability Support Services could carry out their obligations to Ashley.

The Health Select Committee received the petition calling for government intervention in Ashley’s case and considered it for the first time at its meeting on September 21.

Once a Select Committee receives a petition it then decides whether to open it up for public submissions.

Capital & Coast District Health Board general manager Mental Health Addictions and Intellectual Disability Services 3DHB Nigel Fairley did not want to comment further until it had been through the Health Select Committee process.

GISBORNE couple Dave and Marlena Peacock have been invited to write to the United Nations about the sub-standard care of their son in the New Zealand mental health system.

After meeting with a UN representative currently in New Zealand, the Peacocks will sit down in the Titahi Bay flat they are renting and write down the injustices they feel their son has been put through.

Ashley Peacock, 38, is a resident of Tawhirimatea, a secure mental health unit in Porirua.

He has been diagnosed with the neurological condition autism and has a mild intellectual disability. Since his incarceration he has also developed post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

A petition calling for Government intervention gathered 5000 signatures and was recently tabled in Parliament.

But despite the urgency given to Ashley’s case by Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier, it has stalled at the parliamentary stage with no time frame on when, if any, recommendations will be made about the future of Ashley.

Under Section 32 of The Public Health and Disability Act 2000, Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman has the power to prioritise Ashley's case and start his immediate reintegration back into the community.

Mr Coleman has delegated Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga to decide Ashley’s future.

The petition has been referred to the Select Committee and Mr Lotu-Iiga’s office said it would be inappropriate for him to comment while this process was under way.

Ashley is under the care of Capital and Coast District Health Board.

General manager Mental Health Addictions and Intellectual Disability Services 3DHB Nigel Fairley said they and the Ministry of Health were continuing to work together on a reintegration plan for Ashley.

But that is news to Ashley’s parents.

Only a mattress and a bottle

Between 2010 and 2013 Ashley was kept in a three-by-four-metre seclusion room with only a mattress and a bottle to go to the toilet in.

Sometimes he did not get out of the room for days, even weeks.

His access outside during that period was contained to a “chicken coop” — an exercise yard with wire mesh on top and a small window in one corner.

He was confined like that for three years.

It was during this time that two visits were made by the Chief Ombudsman’s office for a paper called Report on an Unannounced Visit to Tawhirimatea Unit under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989. It was released under the Official Information Act in June.

In it Judge Boshier described Ashley’s care as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.”

For almost 20 years Mr and Mrs Peacock have exhausted every avenue.

Last-ditch attempt

Writing to the United Nations is a last-ditch attempt to get better living conditions for their only child.

The Ombudsman report in February confirmed what Ashley’s parents already knew, what the Human Rights Commission had also said and what advocates, lawyers and autism experts had all been saying for years.

Ashley urgently needed to come out.

Despite those requests, and the petition, Health Committee & Transport and Industrial Relations committee deputy clerk Kelly Traynor said there was no report-back date for the petition at this stage.

“We do not know when the committee will report back on this petition,” she said.

Ashley’s parents are in their early 70s and want to make sure their son is in good management before they “shuffle off”, as Dave puts it.

“Both of us are not in good health and we are getting on. That is why we have been pushing so hard.”

Over the years there have been flurries of activity where hopes were raised, then quiet periods of recovery after hopes were dashed. It is an emotional roller coaster the Peacocks refuse to get off until they have made sure Ashley is transferred into a better living environment.

“Ashley has a great love of animals. He just loves the outdoors.”

The family enjoyed an outdoor lifestyle as Ashley grew up in Gisborne.

Friends of his still in Gisborne remember growing up beside him. They say he had an affinity with animals and loved to fish and surf.

Mrs Peacock acknowledges Ashley was a challenge from the start but the family were happy. Howver, his behaviour became more difficult to manage resulting in periods in Ward 11 at Gisborne Hospital.

Mrs Peacock came home once to find all their possessions piled up high and the floor awash with water as Ashley obsessively cleaned the house.

Reluctantly, when Ashley was 18, his parents realised they needed help to care for their much-loved only child.

But instead of respite, once Ashley came under the care of Capital and Coast DHB Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Directorate, which covers the Gisborne dsitict, it became a constant struggle to bring his care up to an acceptable level.

Mrs Peacock says Ashley is grateful for his parents continuing to fight for better care for him.

Parents relocated to be closer to him

Since 2014 Ashley has been able to enjoy 90 minutes outside seven days a week while. His parents relocated to be closer to him and visit four times a week for 90 minutes each time.

On top of that Ashley also receives three visits a week from Community Connections, who also spend 90 minutes with him each time.

These are the only times he is allowed off the campus although he does get to go into the tennis court area at times and occasionally goes for short walks around the campus with staff.

It is a vast improvement from how Ashley used to live but he is still confined to the de-escalation unit, which can house up to three other mental health patients at the same time.

However, Ashley has an auditory processing disorder. When other patients are in the de-escalation unit their constant screaming can trigger bad reactions in him.

Mr Peacock marvels at his son’s resilience.

“He copes amazingly well considering what he has been through. Sometimes we can’t believe it ourselves.

“When the Ombudsman came out strongly in support of us, that was a breakthrough. We could hardly believe what was happening to Ashley so we were not surprised when some friends expressed doubt. It was nice to be vindicated in a way.”

They “fought and fought” for access to Ashley’s room for 10 years. But it was only after media exposure they were let inside.

Mrs Peacock said his bedroom was now a small room with a bed, an improvement from the mattress and urine bottle.

“It is a three or four-metre room with a plastic table, plastic chair and squab seat in it. That’s called the lounge and other than that he can wander around the corridors in the unit but he only goes outdoors when we or the Community Connections guys go to visit him,” says Marlena.

Ashley is aware of the petition but his level of understanding and insight is low, says Mr Peacock.

Kept in seclusion

He is kept in seclusion when he lashes out and has hit staff in the past. The captivity upsets him more but he is not released back into the four-room de-escalation unit until he has calmed down — a situation Dave calls a “catch 22”.

A National Intellectual Disability Care Agency report done by three expert reviewers said much of Ashley’s impulsive and unpredictable aggression was due to the mismatch between the care he needed and the service he was getting at Tawhirimatea.

It was rare for him to lash out at anyone outside the hospital grounds, it said.

His parents acknowledge his behaviour can be difficult to handle but say he can also be “well and truly delightful”.
He is definitely damaged by his experience but his parents see the bigger picture.

For eight years they fought to have Ashley seen by a dentist. Their requests were refused because clinical teams said it was too difficult and risky to let Ashley out — that he could assault someone.

In May, he received dental care for the first time in eight years.

He needed three hours of surgery to remove seven rotten teeth, part of his jaw bone and a sinus abscess.

“Think of all the pain he must have been in with all those rotten teeth and an abscess in his head.”

Improvement after dental care

Marlena said since Ashley received dental care he did not lash out again for four months until an isolated incident last week.

“Ashley wanted a comb and they couldn’t find one on the unit. It might seem relatively small but when you’ve got autism it is those things that can throw you.”

This latest incident also came after Ashley had been kept indoors for a few days because of bad weather.

“He would have got cabin fever like anybody would.”

The Peacocks used to take turns to travel from Gisborne to Porirua for six weeks at a time.

But they decided to have a bigger presence after a 2008 “restraint procedure” during which Ashley’s radial nerve was smashed and his humerus fractured.

Ashley needed surgery and six months of intensive physiotherapy.

For the last two years they have both been down living in Wellington full-time and have lived in three different flats over that time.

“This wasn’t in our retirement plan,” says Mr Peacock.

Mr Peacock hopes to return to their Gisborne home soon as the warmer climate will help her health.

But the pair are reluctant to leave until Ashley has a better place to call home.



MoH developing package for Ashley's care

Ministry of Health director of mental health Dr John Crawshaw says all those who are concerned for Ashley Peacock’s health and welfare recognise his needs as complex.

“A package for his care continues to be developed, with combined input from the Ministry of Health and Capital & Coast DHB and consultation with Mr Peacock’s family,” said Dr Crawshaw. “The priority continues to be to developing a care package which is clinically appropriate, viable, sustainable and safe.”

Dr Crawshaw said the appropriate funding arrangements would then be put in place to ensure the DHB and Disability Support Services could carry out their obligations to Ashley.

The Health Select Committee received the petition calling for government intervention in Ashley’s case and considered it for the first time at its meeting on September 21.

Once a Select Committee receives a petition it then decides whether to open it up for public submissions.

Capital & Coast District Health Board general manager Mental Health Addictions and Intellectual Disability Services 3DHB Nigel Fairley did not want to comment further until it had been through the Health Select Committee process.

Minister's response

Associate Minister of Health Peseta Sam-Lotu-Iiga says he acknowledges that Ashley’s situation is distressing for him, his family, friends, and carers.

“The DHB (district health board) is working to progress a safe and sustainable option for Ashley’s accommodation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Ombudsman.

“As Associate Minister of Health it is inappropriate for me to intervene in the delivery of care and treatment for individual patients but I will address misconceptions about Ashley’s situation.

“A person cannot be detained in a mental health unit simply because he or she has a disability.

“The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 can only be used to treat someone when a clinical assessment has found that someone has a mental disorder to such a degree that they either pose a serious danger to themselves or others or their capacity to take care of themselves is seriously diminished.

“While Ashley is living in the secure de-escalation wing of a mental health unit, he is not in constant seclusion or isolation.

“Capital & Coast District Health Board has advised that Ashley spent an average 6.9 hours a week in seclusion in 2015.

“He can move freely around the de-escalation area, and is encouraged to use other parts of the mental health ward. Ashley has company when he wants it and staff escort him on daily outings to do things he enjoys.

“Rising to the Challenge: The Mental Health and Addiction Service Development Plan 2012–2017 tasks mental health inpatient service providers with reducing and eliminating the use of seclusion and restraint in mental health facilities.

“The use of seclusion is subject to strict controls and monitoring.

“In mental health settings, seclusion may be needed when people who are acutely unwell present a risk of harm to themselves or others, and when other alternatives prove ineffective.

“When seclusion is used the rights of patients need to be balanced against the safety of other patients as well as the right of mental health workers to be in a safe workplace.

“Between 2009 and 2014 the number of people secluded decreased by 29 percent and the total number of hours spent in seclusion decreased by 50 percent.”

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Suzanne Warburton - 2 years ago
Wishing the Peacock family all the very best.
"Ashley wanted a comb and they couldn't find one on the unit. It might seem relatively small but when you've got autism it is those things that can throw you."
May I add . . . being wrongfully incarcerated, being incarcerated for being born thinking differently for 10 years (!!!!!) would be enough to throw even the most tolerant of people.

Mike Donnelly - 2 years ago
In 10 years he has gone from a gregarious young and, from the photo, happy and contented man to someone looking like a 60-year-old . . . in primitive isolation dating back to Victorian times . . . is this really happening in the 21st century?

Chris - 2 years ago
I wish this whanau all the best and hope that matters pursued at the UN level will shed more light on your issues and bring about the changes desperately needed to rectify matters. There are serious injustices being inflicted which expose significant gaps in our systems. Even more concerning given the Ombudsman findings. It is likely that there are other whanau experiencing the same issues you. I admire your courage and determination and hope that your matters contribute to building better services for individuals and their whanau supports. It is disheartening that your son's fundamental rights to be treated with respect and humanity are being abused whilst he is deprived of his liberty. Kia kaha

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