Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

'We are surprised he has survived': Parents of Ashley Peacock deliver petition to Parliament

The parents of an autistic man held in an isolated wing of a mental health unit have made an emotional appeal for help after handing over a 5100-signature at Parliament.

David and Marlena Peacock helped present to the petition to Green Party MP Kevin Hague and Labour's Grant Robertson.

Marlena Peacock held a sign with a photo of their son, Ashley Peacock, 38, taken in 2006 and another in 2016, demonstrating the marked change in his appearance.

The couple told media they weren't sure how their son had survived his time in mental health care.

"That's only 10 years apart, and it looks more like 20 years' difference when you look at those pictures. He has put on a huge amount of weight, and lost teeth," David Peacock said.

"We are surprised he has survived as well as he has, actually. Most people going through what he has gone through, I think wouldn't have survived at all. I'm sure I couldn't have.

"We'd like to see him get into a nice place in a rural community. Well supervised, of course, but he needs to be out in a quiet environment. Environment is so important to him."

Ashley Peacock, while out for a walk near Porirua's Regional Rehabilitation Unit Tawhirimatea. Photo by Mark Mitchell, NZ Herald.
Ashley Peacock, while out for a walk near Porirua's Regional Rehabilitation Unit Tawhirimatea. Photo by Mark Mitchell, NZ Herald.

Marlena Peacock said it was hard to believe that Ashley's treatment could happen in modern New Zealand.

"We have been fighting this for years and it's like we are ignored. They have the philosophy that they know best."

The petition has been signed by more than 5170 people and is calling for the Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman to intervene under Section 32 of the Public Health and Disability Act 2000.

"We request that Ashley Peacock be urgently relocated to an individualised service in the community with appropriate levels of support, with a clear time frame," it states.

Hague said the petition would mean a select committee would investigate the matter.

"And that will give the minister [Coleman] a real chance to backup his words about caring about Ashley's situation with real action."

Robertson thanked Ashley's parents for being brave enough to expose their family's life to the public.

"What you are doing is making it possible for the debate to happen for everybody else. I know it is hard. But by putting yourself and Ashley's situation in front of the world, hopefully we can not only change his life, but also the lives of all those who are not being well served by the mental health system."

So far the Government has defended Ashley's treatment, saying his case is "complicated" and safety was paramount.

The Capital and Coast District Health Board has previously said he had some of the "highest and most complex needs" and had issues with unpredictable violence.

Ashley, who is not a criminal but has an intellectual disability, a schizophrenic illness and can be violent, has lived at the Tawhirimatea mental health unit in Porirua for five years.

He sleeps in a 10m-square room with just a mattress and a urine bottle, and when staff order it, can be locked in for long periods - despite repeated warnings from multiple agencies that his condition is deteriorating, and his treatment breaches human rights.

His case is subject to a "watching brief" from the Ombudsman's torture inspectors who recently labelled his living situation "cruel, inhuman or degrading", prompting fresh calls for him to be removed from near-permanent seclusion.

- NZ Herald

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