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Council and special school threatened with legal action over use of 'calm room'

A local authority and a community special school are facing legal action on behalf of two autistic pupils over the use of a ‘calm room’ to manage their behaviours.

Law firm Leigh Day, which is acting for the claimants, said the pupils were allegedly ‘detained’ in the room at Abbey Hill School in Stoke on Trent for “for prolonged periods, where they defecated and urinated and showed other signs of considerable stress and anxiety”.

The claimants are now at alternative specialist autism centres.

In a letter to the school, Leigh Day claimed the two pupils had been “subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and that the use of the ‘calm room’ for extended periods, without appropriate safeguards in place, was an unlawful act as it deprived pupils of their liberty”.

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Merry Varney, a lawyer in the human rights team at Leigh Day said: “Although the use of seclusion and ‘calm rooms’ are recognised, positive tools to use to assist autistic children, these must be used appropriately with effective safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate use.

“Our clients appear to have been placed regularly in a very small room, with little natural light, sparse furniture, and no ability to leave, for an hour or more at a time. Rather than having any calming effect, the periods of seclusion led to significantly increased distress and deterioration in our clients’ behaviour.”

Varney added that the parents had not been informed at the time of the extent of the use of ‘calm room’.

Stoke have been approached for comment.

A spokesman for Stoke said: “The allegations concern the use of the quiet room at the school and only relate to two pupils who left the school in 2012. The quiet room has not been used for more than 12 months. This matter is now the subject of legal discussions and it is not appropriate to comment further.” 

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