Right now, I am not entirely sure what went wrong to leave a child with a costs order against him.
But I have some good people who are helping to unravel it.
People who believe 100% that we were right to bring the case.
People who know that it should have ended differently.
People who know the reality of life.
People who believe in equality for all.
After two years of asking for an accessible Changing Places toilet at my son’s favourite theme park, Flambards, in Helston, Cornwall, we were getting nowhere.
There were no conversations about possibilities and no requests to meet to discuss it.
So we sought legal advice as to how to pursue action to get them to install a Changing Places toilet. It was not, as the theme park and some media sources have said, just a “compensation claim”. It was action to rectify a wrong which had been ignored for too long.
Changing Places toilets have been in the Building Standards since 2009 and the Equality Act is an anticipatory one.
Asking for the toilet is not something which should ever need legal action.
When someone tells you that your facilities are not accessible, the onus is on you to find out more and to improve them.
So how does a child end up with an almost £9,000 bill for costs?
After we started legal proceedings we hired a mobile Changing Places facility in order to go to the park and that is when we learned that they had hired a mobile hoist and paediatric changing table. We were the ones to tell our solicitor. They had not told them that they were going to make any changes.
I can’t use a mobile hoist to get Adam onto the toilet. Many Changing Places users cannot, and there are varied reasons for that. But the room was far too small for it even for those who could. They said that they had been advised that this would work for most users by a local charity.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t asked a Changing Places toilet specialist, but a charity which organises days out for their mainly ambulant members.
Users and experts would have given them dimensions for a room and would have told them exactly what equipment was essential.
After it was featured on the BBC News, others made it clear that the room was too small so they made it larger. Many others also said that they couldn’t use a mobile hoist, but that didn’t bring a solution.
Human Rights are for us all, it isn’t okay to ignore people who are telling you that they can’t use your toilets because they don’t have the right equipment.
After all, urinals suit the needs of most men rather well, but only having urinals would not be okay.
A while later, I was advised by my son’s solicitor that, as we had not specified a ceiling hoist in the original paperwork, it would appear to a court that the theme park had met the request. The theme park was also arguing that they had met the request of the case, which also meant that they accepted that they should have done something over the two years that we had hiring our own toilets in order to go. I was advised that we should agree to settle the case.
It was not ideal news, as my son still couldn’t use the facilities, but it would show that a big business accepted that they needed to act. I am not a legal expert, I am a mum, and, at that point I was also a daughter who was losing her father to cancer. Sometimes you have to accept what you are being told by the experts. So I did.
We carried on just awaiting the news that it was over. I was told that what happens in these cases is that the court directs them to settle the costs of both sides and awards a sum to the person bringing the case to reflect their hurt at not being able to access something equally to non-disabled people. The law does not do this to punish the business, but it does often act as a deterrent to those who might otherwise not comply with the Equality Act. This was not the purpose of the action. We wanted, and still do want, a usable toilet with a ceiling hoist and adult sized changing table. Nothing more, nothing less.
If at that point they had said, “how about we install the full facilities instead?” that would have been the point where we would have shook hands and moved forward from the whole sorry mess.
But they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t know that that was all we wanted?
Some time later, I was informed by my solicitor that there had been an issue with the court not filing a document properly and that the other side had applied to have the case struck out and had applied for costs against Adam. This had apparently happened some time before and he had not been informed.
I had faith that it would all be sorted. After all, how can we go from agreeing to move forward in the legally correct way, to a child being punished financially for daring to defend his human right to access a toilet?
I will be honest, I am still not entirely sure how it remained struck out.
All sides agree that none of this was Adam’s fault – the case brought was valid.
By their actions, Flambards agreed that they needed to improve their facilities. Strangely, despite a low quality job here, they installed a full Changing Places toilet at their other theme park, Lightwater Valley, in Yorkshire.
What I do know is that there have been many failings in the process.
-A child’s request for a Changing Places toilet was ignored for two years.
-Poor advice was given to the attraction as to how to install the facilities.
-There was a lack of discussion about meeting the needs.
-Something went wrong with paperwork.
-Something else went wrong with getting that strike out removed.
-Adam still can’t use the toilet at his favourite place.
Everyone is cross. Flambards appear to be focused on not liking that they would have to pay a settlement as part of the legal process, when they really only had to install a usable Changing Places toilet instead of battling. Wouldn’t that have been a lot easier than battling to keep a disabled child (and other Changing Places user) out?
They are blaming the ending and the costs order on Adam’s solicitor making errors. Again, not on the validity of the case, but a paperwork issue.
Adam’s solicitor suggests that the behaviour of the other side was “sharp” and that they should have informed the court that the paperwork did exist, as they had received their copy of it. He also says that the other side did not need to apply for a costs order when they know the claim was valid and made for the right reasons.
Changing Places users are angry that such an important issue was trampled on in this way.
People who believe in Equality are angry that it ever needed to reach a point of legal action, after all, it was a request to use the toilet! The comments which have been left on our Crowd Justice page show their feelings very clearly.
But there is still a boy here, just 12 years old, who has complete faith that the theme park he has always loved so much will do the right thing and ensure that the 1 in 260 people in the UK who depend on Changing Places toilets can also “go” there.
He will be heartbroken to learn that others are arguing over technical stuff instead of finding a solution.
After all, doing the right thing is what is always demanded of children.
There are many ways to install these facilities. Venues with no suitable buildings have been creative and used shipping containers, others have used a big wooden summerhouse type building. Some have converted staff toilets into a Changing Places facility and one Cornish Community Interest Company, on the edge of the moors, is currently working hard to turn an old piggery into one. They don’t have a multi-million pound parent company, but they have a man with a spade, a tool kit and passion for inclusion!
At the moment, Adam doesn’t know that he has been failed so badly by the system which is meant to protect him.
He is busy enjoying a recent new love, making and eating pizza.
In a few months he will have more spinal surgery for fixed rods and spinal fusion. His recovery will, most likely, take a year, and going anywhere will be hard.
Hopefully, we can avoid telling him that his favourite place preferred to battle to keep him out, rather that make the changes needed to welcome him in.