Thursday, 24 September 2009

Permanently marked

The news articles on this story are generally so full of poor assumptions and ablism that I don't have a good one to link to. The BBC one isn't quite as bad as the others, so: a man has been removed from the London taxi training course. The facts of the case, as far as I can tell through the reporting, are this:

[trigger warning]

In 2000, while living with paranoid schizophrenia, he strangled his wife. He pleaded guilty on grounds of diminished responsibility, and was sentenced for manslaughter to indefinite imprisonment in 2001.

Some time after this, the parole board assessed that he was no longer a danger to society and he was released. In early 2009 he worked for a private hire company in London, and later on began training for the London black cabs (which have a higher standard of training required).

Transport for London's guidelines, at the time, allowed people with 'spent' convictions to train with them. When the press discovered, via a leak, that this man was taking this training, they raised a giant fuss. TfL then disallowed the man to continue with the training, and announced that it would change its licensing guidelines to exclude people with spent convictions for violent offences except in exceptional mitigating circumstances.

What no-one seems to be generally pointing out in the mainstream press, though, is that this is surely precisely one of those circumstances. He was under the effects of a severe mental illness at the time he killed his wife. The court at the time accepted that this was the only reason for his actions in allowing the diminished responsibility plea (which is really quite rare). He has since been assessed as healthy by the parole board.

Let's take an example with a physical illness. Someone gets a highly contagious, highly dangerous physical illness. A family member catches it and dies, but they survive after extensive treatment in hospital. Having recovered, they apply for a job as a taxi driver, but are turned down because a previous health problem once led to someone's death. The logic being used, of course, is "what if they're wrong about being healthy?" to which the answer is "and where did you get your license to practice medicine again?".

Of course, it's in all the press, and the existing taxi drivers were up in arms about it, so that sort of thinking is never going to be possible in this case. TfL had been trying to be reasonable about it...

[a few days ago] Jeroen Weimar, chief operating officer at TfL, said: [...] "We have got five to six years of independent medical advice saying this man is no danger to the community and fit and proper to be a taxi driver or a minicab driver."

...but have since presumably calculated that it's better to stop taking hits to their reputation than to support people with previous mental health problems. It's appalling that the two things are contradictory.