“Natural Causes”

Thomas Rawnsley died on the 4th February 2015. He was 20 years old. Thomas had a diagnosis of Downs Syndrome and Autism. He was just 4ft 10″ in height. Thomas had been in three different ATUs leading up to his death.

Here are the words of Thomas’s mother Paula.


Someone told me at my sons funeral that time would heal. That I would never forget him but it would get easier. I don’t want to talk about his unspeakable, cruel death he suffered alone and away from me. I don’t want to think about the horror he faced in those final hours away from me. I hurt for him and me more and more every day. I fought so hard for my boy. They were always so powerful and Thomas was special to me.

I didn’t know how I was going to cope with him when I found out he had Downs Syndrome. His father and I were so worried, no one gave us any hope or encouragement but we tried so hard alone and brought up the sweetest, mischievous, loving boy ever. He loved his three older sisters and they loved him equally. We had one great family and we struggled with all the ups and downs families have normally.


But like many children going into their teens Thomas started to be troubled. Although very slight in stature (he was only 4ft 10) he could be very strong. He also was diagnosed at this time with autism and so trying to understand what was happening to him was hard. He didn’t want to go to school and I was under pressure to get him and the others to school. I asked for help. How I wish that I never had asked for help now. How I wish darling Thomas I had kept you by my side and never let you go.


The journey for Thomas was a darker and terrifying descent into a land of hospitals, drugs, cruelty and abuse resulting in a ‘carer’ targeting him deliberately and bending back his fingers to torture him among other means of torture and repression. Thomas had a will and stood up for himself despite his small size but they gradually beat him down and then they broke him and us with him the day he died in their non care. I knew he would die away from me. When he was finally sent away from us by a judge who said he “was getting bored and needed his tea’ I wept. I knew he would never come home. I knew it would be the end. I’d been secretly gagged by the court for daring to talk about the previous abuse in a local paper . I had nowhere to go with my problems and pleading. Thomas’s official advocate had promised to stand against the transfer to the home in Sheffield but he turned against him on the day and agreed with the courts. Thomas was bundled off sobbing and I didn’t get the chance to say good bye.


The odds were always stacked against us. The last meeting I had with the professionals there were three lawyers in the room plus senior officers. We had a volunteer with us. We were not listened to. I told them Thomas had a serious chest infection and they said it wasn’t up for discussion at that meeting. Instead they told us it was an expensive meeting so I needed to listen to the important people. They had no intention of getting any grant money on offer to get Thomas housing. They stopped the application. It would have given us some hope and my darling boy some hope. Instead he died feeling hopeless and losing his faith in anyone to help him. The professionals at the meeting refused to let the Minister of Health Norman  Lamb have information that day or the BBC who were interested in Thomas’s story. I know in my heart that if they had not gagged us again like that Thomas would be alive today as they wanted to go and get information over the next few days.


A week later Thomas was dead. A secret trip by a senior, and in my view, vengeful local authority officer to the court resulted in me being gagged again. I was unable to get to the people who could do something to help, and that cost Thomas his life. It was under the pretext of being in his best interests that the application to silence me was made. But it was because I criticised them for failing to look after my son properly and commissioning such appalling services. But all of those in power change their stories and have no accountability.


It was snowing the week Thomas died. The home told me not to go. They didn’t tell me how ill he really was. I set out and turned back because the snow was so bad.  I’ll never forgive myself. I can’t live with the knowledge that I left him there in their hands. I have read reports now before his inquest that I can’t  share or discuss yet. But I lie here alone in my flat desperate and guilty that the horror of his death was avoidable. It’s not something that time heals. It gnaws, twists, wrenches and possesses me in an agony that is indescribable. I post pictures of some crazy nights to make people think I’m ok but the craziness is all in me. I’m going mad with the pain and guilt of it all.

My boy, my vulnerable boy died alone without me. They immediately said it was natural causes but a lifetime of pain, separation, cocktails of drugs, sobbing to come home, pleading to see the Judge, fell on their cruel dispassionate ears and we, his family are left to tend his grave. I had to agree to turn off the life support system of the baby who I brought into this world and that I loved for every special bit of him.

Justice for my boy Thomas Rawnsley



A Request:

Thomas’s final pre-inquest hearing is in Sheffield at 11am on the 5th May. Paula would really appreciate as much support as we can gather. If you are free on that day and are able to attend, we know that Paula would really appreciate the support.


70 thoughts on ““Natural Causes”

  1. I can not help but feel your pain! I too have a down syndrome son who is afficted with autism. He is for the most part non verbal, I can understand his communication more than most. It tugged at heart and made me weep. We live in the mid west of the United States. I have had a long time fear of Nick being taken from us. When his diagnosis of autism was discovered it was because I suspected it because my sweet boy had turned into a violent and frustrated teen. I learned to communicate with him in a way that an autistic person could understand and found him a great school for him and in a year and a half his personality has done a complete 180. I so wish this could have been for you and your family. The pain you must feel must be unbearable!
    I wish there were words to comfort you all these miles away, but I know if it were me in your situation there would be no comfort for me. I would love to reach out and offer my sincerest condolences on the loss of your special young man. May what ever higher being you may believe in wraps there loving arms around you and comfort you. He knew you loved him very much. I hope you find peace. Please feel free to contact me if you need to bboss1961@yahoo.com.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Paula,
    My heart is so broken for you and your family, I just cannot imagine the sadness, the hurt, the loss you are feeling. I’m trying to type this through tears for you.

    As a father of a wonderful and beautiful 17 yr old son living with DS, and discovering the joy he brings to our family and everyone around him each and every day, I just can’t fathom how the British government could even go as far as they did with you and your son. I know we don’t have a perfect government system here in the United States, but this is totally absurd for a modern society. It sounds like they are treating your case and how they treated Thomas is like it is some eastern block or third world country. There needs to be justice for Thomas and I will do whatever I can from here to help you.

    I am a strong believer that these wonderful individuals are gifts from heaven and with that extra chromosome, they are far more perfect than we ever could be; they see life in such a more beautiful and perfect way that we can’t even begin to see. It is our duty to protect these beautiful people and it hurts when the government or society tries to tell us differently. Paula, based on what I read, the cards were stacked against you and that is not right, they took your baby from you.

    I will forward this to my friends at the Down Syndrome International (UK), National Down Syndrome Society (US), National Down Syndrome Congress (US), as well as my organization and try to drum up support for you.

    With much sadness and many tears,

    Family Resource Information & Education Network for Down Syndrome

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Unfortunately, this does happen and is due to lack of funding and support for those with learning disability and their families. I have personally witnessed some of the horrendous conditions adults have had to live with. My brother had a mental breakdown a few years back and was taken into the assessment centre in Armagh (part of St Lukes). Hygiene conditions were unbelievable with rats running around garden and old curtains lying on paths rotting and human excrement on walls. My family complained and complained and I wrote to the RQIA and never received a response. Support is not there and families are worn down fighting for their loved one. We need a commissioner for learning disability and mental health just as we have for children and the aged. I will help anyone who is currently struggling with a cause. Together we can be stronger…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am heart broken at your story. There are no words I can find. I hope some day your heart finds peace and healing. And I hope those responsible answer to their behaviors.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My deepest condolences. I too have a son with Down syndrome , and I and he will pray for your family , and we will never forget Thomas , and his beauty , kindness, nor will we ever forget his love for so many , nor what his purpose was here on earth , as a teacher .

    Liked by 1 person

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