LSBU highlights teen’s death in second annual disability lecture

10 May 2024

LSBU’s second annual disability lecture took place on Tuesday (May 7th) and focused on the human rights of disabled people with reference to the preventable death of a teenager at an NHS assessment and treatment centre.

Connor Sparrowhawk, affectionately nicknamed Laughing Boy, was autistic and had a learning disability and epilepsy. He drowned in a bath while in the NHS unit in Oxford following an epileptic seizure in 2013. He was 18 years old.

The lecture coincides with the start of the run of ‘Laughing Boy’, a new play about Connor’s story at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre.  Several conference participants attended the play on May 8th and had the opportunity to meet with Baroness Hollins who conducted a review of detentions in hospitals of people with learning disabilities. She has been supportive of LSBU’s call for action to address the concern about violations of the human rights of people with learning disabilities.

The play’s writer and director Stephen Unwin was among the speakers at the LSBU event.  Stephen is writer in residence for LSBU’s Critical Autism and Disability Research Forum.

“It was so great to gather together to consider how people with learning disabilities are still marginalized and dehumanized by an uncomprehending world,” Stephen said. “We also found new connections, new dialogues, new ways of challenging the neglect and indifference that led to Connor Sparrowhawk's entirely preventable death."

This year’s event took the format of round-table discussion, and also featured contributions from Connor’s mother, and author of the book ‘Justice for LB’, Professor Sara Ryan.  LSBU’s autism and learning disability research was showcased at the event and plans were made for  impactful further research.

"This was a powerful and provocative event with thoughtful contributions from self-advocates, family members, health professionals, third sector representatives, a theatre director and international academics," Professor Ryan said.

One of the main event organisers was LSBU’s Professor Nicola Martin from the School of Law and Social Sciences, who said change was still needed to improve the rights of disabled people.

“It is so important that people with learning disabilities were able to talk about their lived experience,” she said. “The next step is a call to action to government to ensure that violations of the human rights of people with learning disabilities become a thing of the past.”

Barry Sheerman MP, convenor of The Westminster Autism Commission is involved in LSBU’s call for action and Baroness Hollins has asked to be kept informed.

The lecture was organised by The School of Law and Social Sciences and Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities