Mum's fury after Warwickshire councillor asked if 'something in the water' had increased child special needs cases

6 February 2024, 19:37 | Updated: 6 February 2024, 23:43

Joanne Gillibrand said the comments were 'utterly heartbreaking'
Joanne Gillibrand said the comments were 'utterly heartbreaking'. Picture: Handout/Warwickshire County Council

By Ruth Wood, Mitch Rushton and Kieran Kelly

A mum has expressed her "utter disgust" at "abhorrent" comments made by Warwickshire councillors about children with special educational needs.

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Conservative councillor Jeff Morgan has been forced to apologise after questioning whether children with special educational needs who are receiving funding are "just really badly behaved".

Brian Hammersley, also a Conservative councillor, has apologised after questioning whether "something in the water" had contributed to a rise in child special needs cases.

A third councillor, Clare Golby, said parents were "swapping tips on how to their children diagnosed". She has also apologised.

Joanne Gillibrand, whose 11-year-old-daughter has autism and is home-schooled, said she was "utterly disgusted" by the "abhorrent comments made by these local politicians".

She claims she was told by her local authority that she needed to change her "parenting style" before her daughter was diagnosed with a brain abnormality.

"My heart broke hearing the comments," she told LBC. "I do everything to ensure her life is enriched with experiences and these people hold a narrative that we are just allowing our children to be ‘naughty’.

"I want a retraction, apology and for them to step down from their positions."

Joanne Gillibrand and her daughter
Joanne Gillibrand and her daughter. Picture: Handout

All three councillors have apologised for their remarks, including Mr Morgan, who said he regretted "any offence caused by my choice of words."

"It was never my intention to offend, and I regret the words I used to make a point about demand and need in the SEND area," the councillor said.

Melvyna Hawes, who is from Essex, feels so strongly about the councillors' comments that she has launched a petition to demand their dismissal and will head to the council's HQ on Thursday to protest.

"As a concerned parent of a six-year-old son diagnosed with autism and global development delay, I am deeply troubled by the actions of this local council," she said.

"My son is non-verbal and currently out of school because no mainstream school can accommodate his needs, yet there are no available places at special educational needs (SEN) provisions.

"This situation is not unique to us but affects many families in Warwickshire."

Melvyna Hawes
Melvyna Hawes. Picture: Handout

A council spokesperson confirmed that an investigation into their comments will be launched.

"Warwickshire County Council has received a number of complaints. These complaints centre around comments made by three councillors during a meeting of the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 25th January 2024," the spokesperson said.

"It is clear that these comments have caused significant offence, distress and upset to children and their families within the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) community.  The Council takes that very seriously.

"The Council wishes to emphasise that the comments made are not representative of the views of the wider council body including those councillors and officers who work so hard to provide support and opportunities for children with SEND. 

'The Council has built strong relationships with groups within the SEND community, and we are conscious of the damage this situation may cause to those relationships.

"The complaints received will be considered as part of an investigation which the Council’s Monitoring Officer has begun. Whilst that investigation gets underway it is important that The Council also acknowledges the scale of the upset and to that end those councillors involved wish to apologise personally for their comments."