Where feeding feels like abuse – a harrowing case

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership & North Bristol NHS Trust v WA & Ors [2020] EWCOP 37

Introduction

This application concerned WA, a Palestinian refugee, who believes he was born on 29 December 1994, and who was therefore 25 years old. WA is a patient at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, having been admitted due to malnourishment. WA suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a consequence of extreme physical and sexual abuse suffered during a ‘disastrous’ foster placement in Italy between his flight from Palestine, where he had suffered sustained abuse from members of Hamas, and his arrival in the UK in 2009.  Since his admission, WA has intermittently refused nutrition and hydration via a naso-gastric (‘NG’) tube after the Home Office accepted age assessments concluding that he was born 6 years earlier.

The age dispute did not affect WA’s right to live in the UK. On arrival in the UK, he was placed with foster carers with whom he still lives, a member of a ‘close and supportive family.’ WA claimed asylum and was (ultimately) granted indefinite leave to remain in 2019. The dispute has caused WA significant bureaucratic difficulties (for example, when he filled out completed forms, including one to volunteer at the Nightingale Hospital), but the main issue for WA was his clear belief that the Home Office stripped him of his identity, dignity, and his connection with his deceased parents and heritage.

‘For WA the removal of his date of birth is perceived as a fundamental violation of his own rights and an assault on his identity. As a prisoner in Palestine and a victim of physical and sexual abuse in Italy, WA experienced the complete negation of his autonomy at a stage in his childhood and adolescence where he might otherwise have started to explore it. Having listened to him, his parents, the psychiatrists and psychologists, during the course of this hearing, it is clear that WA experienced the change of his date of birth as effectively abusive.’ [6]

There are ongoing parallel proceedings in the administrative court to judicially review the decision of the Home Office not to change the date of WA’s birth on his biometric records. Feeling ‘hopeless,’ WA began to refuse to eat and drink.  He was eventually admitted to Southmead hospital, where he intermittently accepted IV fluids, some minimal foods, and an NG tube.  He was detained under section 3 MHA 1983 for a month, but had been discharged for a month by the time of the hearing.  The Vice President of the Court of Protection, Hayden J, found that his refusal to eat was not in any way a ‘protest’ and that ‘it would be entirely wrong to describe his actions as being on “hunger strike”’ [65].  Very sadly, he found that WA had ‘all but given up’ hope of the Home Office accepting the date of birth which his grandmother told him was his and which is such an integral part of his identity.

Click here to read the full blog post by Sophia Roper

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