Monday, 31 January 2011

Where is the Case for the Defence?

In some recent radio interviews (and a YouTube video) in which I have discussed my book, Delivered Unto Lions, I have made a number of general allegations in connection with the experiences and issues that ‘inspired’ it.  I have talked about the former Merrifield Children’s Unit at Tone Vale Psychiatric Hospital in Somerset (the basis for the fictional Oakdale Unit of my book), and I have suggested that some of what I experienced and witnessed there in the 1970s was abusive.

My allegations have, admittedly, been non-specific.  I haven’t named names, but focussed instead on the system that allowed certain things to happen.  I have criticised the institution’s reliance on drugs to treat and control its patients, along with my opinion that it was inappropriate to subject developing brains to these potent substances, and in such doses.  I have also referred to excessively aggressive forms of restraint, and the isolation of children in a small room with their clothes taken away from them (and I haven’t always remembered to point out that these things were occasional rather than regular events).

I could have said more, of course, but daytime radio may not be the best forum for a discussion on the horrendous response to incidents of sexual abuse (but such things are covered in my book).

What amazes me is that no one (as far as I am aware) has yet come forward to defend Merrifield Unit, or children’s psychiatric units more generally.  And no one (again, as far as I am aware) has yet emerged to condemn my book as sensationalist fabrication (though, if anything, I consider it understated in places).

It is true, of course, that my book is only a modest seller and that my radio interviews have only been broadcast on local stations, and have not therefore enjoyed an especially high profile.  But I have certainly heard from people who confirm the picture I have painted, so there is clear evidence that what I have said has reached at least some of those interested in the topic. 

What I have said in my interviews is, of course, the truth.  And the content of Delivered Unto Lions is a representation of that same truth.  But I recognise that there are at least two sides to every story.  So, where is the case for the defence?  Why hasn’t anyone challenged me?  

It would be nice to think that those concerned (where they are aware of what I have said) have recognised the validity of my arguments and accepted that I am in the right (in which case an apology directed at former child patients would be an appropriate response).  But it would be both naive and conceited to believe that that is the case.  So, what is the reason for the silence?  Maybe those who disagree with me simply think the issue isn’t important.

In some ways it is rather foolish of me to invite a challenge – I don’t actually want to be challenged.  But the issues that lie behind my book are important ones, and that makes the silence from certain quarters ‘deafening’.  Everything I have written and said on the subject is concerned with exposing the ‘hidden world’ of children’s mental health care in the recent past, but it seems that the former ‘rulers’ of this ‘hidden world’ are doing all they can to stay hidden – which is hardly encouraging if the same diffidence applies with regard to the current state of child psychiatric care.

I am aware that I am being unusually provocative here, and I continue in that vein by ending on a similarly provocative note.  I have asked, ‘Where is the case for the defence?’  Could it be that there is no possible defence?


Delivered Unto Lions by David Austin is published by CheckPoint Press
ISBN 978-1-906628-21-5
For more information visit


  1. i was in merryfield 79/80. medication and treatment of children was no better then. i have been warned not to say anything as things have changed katrina widgery (former patient) to contact me here is a email adress (this is my nephews email adress as i do no have my own)

  2. Yes, I'm sure things have changed, Katrina. However, I remember being told back in the '70s that things had changed then - and how lucky I was! But in fairness, it is all very different now, and (as I understand it) the few children's and adolescents' units that exist today are much smaller (far fewer kids end up in residential psychiatric care these days) and the units are also more specialised. One thing that hasn't changed, though, is that hardly anyone knows these places exist.

    Although things are generally better now (or so I believe), if those of us who remember what it used to be like don't say anything, then a dark secret will die with us and no one will learn from our experiences. It's quite alarming to hear that you've been warned not to say anything; no one has warned me off - yet...

    The thing is, human nature hasn't changed (good people can still be led to do bad things in obedience to their bosses or institutional cultures), so there's always the chance that similar 'mistakes' could happen again - unless wider society keeps an eye on these things and holds psychiatric services to account.