Documents released this week have revealed that students at Richmond Hill Approved School who were considered “restless and aggressive” were given drugs in an experiment backed by Home Ooffice doctors. The parents of the children, aged 15 and older, were not consulted.
Sanchia Berg of BBC News notes that children were sent there by juvenile courts but were not imprisoned. BBC’s investigation revealed that Dr. J.R. Hawkings, a psychiatrist at the school, wrote to the Home Office asking for permission to perform experiments on boys who were impulsive, restless, and aggressive — and it didn’t stop there:
Shortly after the trial at Richmond Hill was conducted, a similar trial at Springhead Park was attempted. At that school psychiatrist Joyce Gilbraith said, “My suggestion is that we should try some form of drug trial to see if, by allaying the anxiety of the girls chemically, we might perhaps settle the school a little bit more, and give the staff an opportunity to put their own house in order.”
The experiment to be conducted at Springhead Park was supported by Dr. Mason, a backer for the experiment at Richmond Hill. The trial was prevented by Springhead Park’s headmistress.
The outcome of the trial, which lasted six months, is not documented, notes BT news. The trial was to test the effectiveness of an anticonvulsant, which was not widely used, as a sedative to calm down certain boys:
“The trials involved three doctors, all now deceased, who supported the experiments. Dr. Pamela Mason wrote, “From the clinical or practical point of view these are the boys that can produce considerable problems within a school and this sort of research into possible drug treatment is to be welcomed.””
The name in use for the drug during trials was Haloperidol, Brittany Vonow reports for the Sun. It is now rarely in use as an aid to epileptics.
Not everyone working at the school was even aware such trial were being conducted. Bob Hammal, a teacher from 1968 to 1972 at Richmond Hill, said “What really did shock me more than anything was that parental consent was not sought and was not thought to be necessary by the powers that be.”
Some have questioned the legality of the of the experiment, writes Mark Duell for the Daily Mail. Alan Collins, a partner at Hugh James solicitors, believes that the Declaration of Helsinki clearly sets out that informed consent should have been a requirement:
“Had the issue gone before a court at that time it is difficult to see how it could be said that either the young people concerned, or their parents had given informed consent, or indeed any consent whatsoever,” says Collins.
Approved schools were run by voluntary organizations and inspected by the Home Office. They were conceptually between a child’s home and Borstal as far as confinement was concerned.
The experiments were to have been conducted in a double-blind fashion. There was supposed to be a control group that was given a placebo and another group, the students in this case, to be administered the drug.
Some doctors believed that these trials would lead to a legitimate and effective treatment for these children’s problems. Dr. Mason, formerly of the Home Office, wrote:
“I think this sounds a valuable treatment approach to the very real problems that arise from the special nature of girls in residence and in particular the problems presented by younger immature disturbed adolescent girls.”