The BBC is reporting that Home Office doctors gave the go-ahead for experimental drug trials on children at two approved schools in the 1960s, National Archives files show.
At Richmond Hill Approved School in North Yorkshire, housing pupils aged 15 and older, the most disruptive boys were given an anticonvulsant drug to see if it would control behaviour.
In a document dating from late 1967, Dr JR Hawkings, a psychiatrist attached to Richmond Hill, wrote to the Home Office asking permission to conduct a drug trial on boys who were “impulsive, explosive, irritable, restless and aggressive”.
He wanted to give some of them a drug called Beclamide. The anticonvulsant, which has sedative effects and was prescribed for epilepsy, is no longer widely in use. Although Dr Hawkings said this would be “a perfectly normal and legitimate therapy for certain types of disturbed adolescent”, he also said that it had not been widely tested on such boys.
The papers show Home Office psychiatrist Dr Pamela Mason welcomed Dr Hawkings’s plan. On 1 November 1967 she 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…I would recommend maximum support for this project.”
According to notes on the file, the trial went ahead in 1968, with boys given the drug for six months.
Bob Hammal, a teacher at Richmond Hill between 1968 and 1972, was appalled to learn of the trial. “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,” he said. He believes that had he, or other colleagues, known at the time, they would have tried to stop it, or acted as a whistleblower if that was not possible.
How do you think a study like this got approved by Home Office without any parental consent? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Sophie
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