Ashley Peacock will be released from a mental health unit and live in the community - a breakthrough revealed today by his parents.

Ashley, who is aged in his late 30s and has an intellectual disability and a schizophrenic illness, has been kept in a tiny wing of the Tawhirimatea mental health unit at Porirua for five years, allowed outside for an average 90 minutes a day.

The New Zealand Herald broke the story of Peacock's living situation last year, revealing the intellectually disabled, autistic and mentally ill man lived in a 10sq m seclusion room.

It has been costing taxpayers almost $1 million a year to keep him behind locked doors.

Advertisement

Autism Action founder Kim Hall, one of Ashley's advocacy group, said it was good news for the team which had worked on the case all of last year.

"Everyone is extremely happy and excited that it's come to this because we were prepared to be fighting for another year, but the fact they've changed their minds​ is a big relief," Hall said.

"It should not have taken this long and a fight like this to get the result. We still don't understand why there's been a change in attitude now when it seems like a community provider has been willing to take him in for a long time."

His parents, Dave and Marlena Peacock, appeared before a health select committee at Parliament today to support a petition calling for action on his case.

Dave Peacock revealed that authorities had now "relented" and his son would be allowed be cared for and live in the community.

"At last after 10 years of Ashley being institutionalised the authorities have relented. However, much work is required to find a suitable house or cottage in a quiet, rural setting and [have] support staff trained.

"This is expected to take at least six months. In the meantime, Ashley will be in the de-escalation area of Tawhirimatea, although not usually locked in the room."

Trish Grant, Marlena Peacock and David Peacock. Photo / Nicholas Jones
Trish Grant, Marlena Peacock and David Peacock. Photo / Nicholas Jones

The Chief Ombudsman last year labelled Ashley's living situation "cruel, inhuman or degrading", prompting fresh calls for him to be removed from near-permanent seclusion.

Advertisement

Capital & Coast have previously said Ashley had some of the "highest and most complex needs" and had issues with unpredictable violence. From their perspective, safety was paramount.

But the petition on his case, signed by 5195 people, called for the Minister of Health to intervene and have Ashley urgently moved to an individualised service in the community.

The change in direction comes after a prolonged battle by the Peacocks, and continual flip-flopping by the health board on its plans for Ashley.

Mid-last year the board was considering moving Ashley to a  purpose-built cottage on the Porirua hospital grounds, to the dismay of his parents.

Documents seen by the Herald show that as late as December, the board had again changed plans, and instead wanted to reconvene a panel of the National Intellectual Disability Care Agency to again review Ashley's care.

That was scrapped after a meeting with the Peacocks, who were instead told at a meeting last month the board would begin working towards Ashley's release.

Transferring him to the community is expected to take at least six months.

The Green Party's mental health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said there needed to be both a public commitment from the Government that things would change for Ashley - but also an inquiry into the mental health system.

"It is just not good enough for our system to throw away the key on patients like Ashley. I can't help but wonder how many other Ashleys there are out there who are suffering and in pain because of our mental health system," she said.

The story so far

• Autistic man Ashley Peacock is held in an isolated wing of a mental health unit for five years, allowed just 90 minutes a day outside.

• The Ombudsman and Human Rights Commission consider his case one of prolonged seclusion, a practice which is supposed to be a last resort in New Zealand.

• His family say they want their son out. A review document agrees, saying he should be moved to a community setting as soon as possible.

• Opposition politicians call for Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to intervene. Coleman passes responsibility for the case to Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga, who defends Ashley's treatment.

• The Human Rights Commission announces it will bring an international expert to New Zealand to investigate seclusion practices.

• The Ombudsman releases investigation into Ashley's treatment, including a statement from Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier that his living situation amounts to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

• A petition for Ashley's release is presented to Parliament and came before the Health Select Committee today