Aston Hall – Historical Abuse Victims Receive Government Apology

Dozens of victims who suffered horrific historical abuse at Derby’s Aston Hall psychiatric hospital have received letters of apology from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

aston hall apology
Dianne Collins

It comes more than a year after a settlement of the case – which was supported by our Personal Injury team and saw victims receive at least £8,000 in compensation – was agreed with the Secretary of State for Health.

Throughout an investigation into claims of historical abuse at Aston Hall, Dianne Collins, Senior Associate in our Personal Injury team, represented claimants who were admitted to the hospital in the 1960s and 70s when they were children.

Speaking after her 80 clients had received their apology letters, Dianne said:

“Throughout this entire process, all the survivors have wanted are answers to their questions, an admission that what happened to them as children should never have been allowed to happen, and an apology.

“The civil claim has been a difficult process for our clients to re-live, and we are pleased that, thanks to the many survivors who found the courage to come forward, all those things have been achieved and they have now been given the justice they deserve.

“While no apology or amount of compensation can change what happened to these people or make up for how they have suffered since, I hope the settlement and the end of this long legal claim will help to give them closure and enable them to move forward.”

The claimants – who were vulnerable children at the time – alleged they were ‘experimented’ on by the hospital’s head physician, Dr Kenneth Milner, with a drug called sodium amytal, which is commonly known as a ‘truth serum’ during narco-analysis treatment, a type of therapy conducted while a patient is in a sleep-like state to unlock repressed memories.

Historically, it was used during the Second World War to treat soldiers with shellshock quickly and get them back to the front line. It was never a suitable treatment to give to children. Many also alleged they were sexually abused while under the influence of the drug.

In a report published in 2018, the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board – a multi-agency body including police, health and social services – said the claims made by dozens of former patients were genuine. Derbyshire Police also said it had recorded 33 physical assault and 40 sexual assault allegations after taking witness accounts from 140 people.

Dr Milner died in 1975 making it impossible to put the allegations to him, therefore no criminal prosecutions are to be brought. However, Derbyshire Police’s senior investigating officer said there would have been sufficient evidence to justify interviewing Dr Milner under caution if he was still alive in relation to a number of potential offences – namely rape, indecent assault, child cruelty and assault. But the report also stated no inference could be drawn as to his guilt.

Dianne added:

“What happened to those children at Aston Hall in the 1960s and 70s is appalling. Sadly, at the time, there were no safeguarding procedures in place to stop it from happening. Moreover, if these very vulnerable, young people tried to tell anyone what had happened to them, they were not believed.

“It is important to note that it is not too late for survivors of Aston Hall to bring a claim under the settlement scheme. If they received narco-analysis treatment while a patient at the hospital and the records exist that document those treatments, they will be entitled to compensation under the scheme.

“Although many survivors may be disappointed that no criminal prosecutions are to be brought, it is always important to report any abuse that has happened, however long ago it was. Abusers have to realise they are not in the clear simply because of the passage of time.”