Mother tells of guilt at putting son in hands of religious order
A MOTHER has told how entrusting her son to the care of the Brothers of Charity was the worst decision she ever made.
Margaret Best was speaking after fresh evidence emerged about the horrific conditions in Lota House, a home for vulnerable children run by the religious order.
Now 42 and back with his family in Douglas, Cork, Kenneth Best cannot talk, read or write and still has the mental age of a two- or three-year-old.
His mother recalled how, as a young married woman, with a profoundly mentally handicapped son, she had to turn to "the professionals" for help.
"I have huge regret about putting Kenneth into Lota. I'll live with that guilt for the rest of my life, but I caved in to the pressure from the so-called professionals," Margaret said.
The Brothers of Charity told her Kenneth would have a special education programme designed to help him specifically. She didn't want to part with her six-year-old, but they dismissed her suggestion that she could perform the programme at home.
Kenneth was placed in the care of the Brothers of Charity at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Lota, Glanmire, Co Cork, on September 1, 1975, and remained there until 1984.
But more than 25 years later, when Margaret finally managed to win access to Kenneth's records from Lota, a staff member had written: "I feel we should at least go through the motions of being concerned, even if over a mother's trifle."
The records show Kenneth quickly developed a series of illnesses over the next year. Margaret was not informed that he was ill and was discouraged by staff from calling to see him.
For at least seven of the nine years that he was resident in Lota the records show repeated references to vermin in the building, with mice, spiders, ants, beetles and cockroaches in several rooms.
Throughout 1976 Margaret had numerous meetings with staff about Kenneth's repeated diarrhoea. "But I never got a proper answer -- they regarded me as a troublemaker, I think," she said.
When Margaret took Kenneth home in September 1977, she was horrified to note his groin area was covered in white blisters. She told staff that it appeared they were not cleaning him, but was assured that he was well cared for.
Kenneth's records report him as being distressed and crying on several occasions in his early years at Lota. In addition, he had eye and tooth problems and by April 1978 his genital area was inflamed and swollen.
There is no evidence that Kenneth was seen by a doctor in respect of this problem.
By mid-1979 Kenneth's repeated eye problems were of such concern to Margaret that she had her own GP refer him to hospital. A consultant told her that if matters continued without proper treatment, there was a danger he would lose his sight.
Strictly against her wishes, Kenneth had also been taken for a polio vaccination. Margaret had told Lota management, before he entered the facility, that because Kenneth had acquired his handicap as a result of a serious adverse reaction to the 3-in-1 vaccine as a child, it was imperative he would not get any more vaccinations.
She only discovered he had been vaccinated when she won the right to get his records in 2001.
"When Kenneth was ill, I was rarely informed of this, despite asking to be told. There are numerous references in his records to him being given a drug called Mellaril which was not a treatment for swollen eyes, ear infections, diarrhoea or insect bites. It is an anti-psychotic," she said.
On September 13, 1979, the records note: "Found (name erased) in bed with Ken Best, nappy partly taken off again." Once again, Margaret was unaware of what was happening to her son.
"These are only the incidents that were reported. I dread to imagine what else was perpetrated against Kenneth, which was not witnessed or not recorded by staff," Margaret said.
In December 1984 she removed Kenneth from Lota.