Forty year old Ashley Peacock has spent a considerable part of his adult life as a compulsory treatment patient.

He has autism, as well as an intellectual disability and mental health problems. At Porirua Hospital's mental health unit a lot of his time has been spent in a room just over 10 sq m with a mattress on the floor and a bottle for urine.

His parents David and Marlena Peacock say that over the years their son's health has deteriorated. On their latest visits they were concerned to discover that Ashley had unexplained black eyes and been given the wrong medication.

These distressing events occurred while they have waited for authorities to deliver on an agreement to arrange a plan for Ashley's release.


Twelve months ago it appeared that this outcome seemed possible when the Peacocks told a health select committee that officials agreed that Ashley could leave the confines of his tiny room. The Capital & Coast District Health Board said it was looking at a transition plan so that Ashley could be cared for in the community.

But a year on little has changed. One sticking point would appear to be funding. Officials have put the cost of his care at Porirua at close to $1 million a year. Funding approved for a community provider fell short at $600,000, so the process to shift Ashley out of compulsory care remains stalled.

The case is a complex one. Porirua doctors have described Ashley as a "high risk" patient.

Last year the Capital & Coast board told Green MPs that its reasons for continuing to hold him as an inpatient under the Mental Health Act was because his psychotic illness was resistant to treatment, and he was assessed as being at a very high risk of harm to others.

But the board's management of Ashley has been far from faultless, according to Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier.

In a report last year he detailed what staff from his office had observed in making several visits to Ashley. After each visit, his office wrote to the board, urging it to find suitable accommodation for Ashley.

He wrote a fourth time saying Ashley's unsatisfactory living conditions had persisted for too long and that action had to be taken to place him in the community.

Boshier remarked then that the process had been "excruciatingly slow" and in his view unacceptable. He also stated that he was speaking not as an advocate for Ashley but as the head of an independent monitoring body charged with ensuring the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees was humane, and met international human rights standards.


IHC advocate Trish Grant says Ashley's treatment reflects the lack of value placed on the lives of the disabled. That view is understandable. Ashley's family is clearly desperate to have more access to him, and firmly believe his welfare will improve away from his bleak surroundings.

Boshier accepts that places of detention contain people with very complex and competing needs. But he argues that a civilised society should treat all members, including its most vulnerable, humanely and with dignity. That appears to have been lacking in the case of Ashley Peacock.