The Official Solicitor is being sued by a former airline pilot alleging a lack of care. after he was deemed incapable of managing his affairs.
Leonard Lawrence, who believes his ill health is the result of toxic fumes being released into aircrafts during flights, was placed in 2004 under the Officil Solicitor’s protection after a psychiatric assessment said he lacked the mental capacity to look after his property and affairs under Part V11 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
During this period, which lasted until 2006, he maintains that his assets were improperly disposed of.
Earlier this year Lawrence was given permission to sue the Official Solicitor’s Office by the Queen’s Bench of the High Court. He is seeking damages from the Official Solicitor for his alleged failure in his duty of care to protect a vulnerable adult.”
Lawrence, who now lives in rented accommodation in Devon, was a pilot from 1989 to 2004. He claims that on 29 November 1991 the flight deck of the passenger aircraft he was co-piloting was filled with hot acrid fumes on take-off. An emergency landing was made and the aircraft evacuated. The plane was later exported to Russia.
Twelve years later, and a day after a fume event only hundreds of feet above Amsterdam, he quit his job after he was: “ unable to process information being given to me by Swiss air traffic control during a flight over the country. I couldn’t and still can’t think clearly enough to fly.”
When he visited his GP, Lawrence was referred for a psychiatric assessment to Buckinghamshire Mental Health Trust and he was subsequently admitted to Godden Green Clinic.
After being discharged he was certified in November 2004, without undergoing a medical, when solicitor’s for his ex-wife obtained a medical report from the clinic saying Lawrence was incapable of managing his property and affairs.
Although this was disputed by Lawrence’s own NHS psychiatrist it was accepted in Slough County Court and the former pilot was placed under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Official Solicitor at the Ministry of Justice. The Official Solicitor acts as a last resort ‘Guardian ad litem’ for people who lack the mental capacity to properly manage their own affairs and who cannot find suitable people to protect them. Lawrence had assembled a number of distinguished people, including Mr Alistair Wilson FRCS, a clinical director at the Royal London Hospital, who were prepared to act as his guardian but the county court chose to ignore them.
Lawrence remained under the jurisdiction of the Official Solicitor until early in 2006. By then a medical diagnosis, undertaken by Professor Abou-Donia at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in North Carolina, USA revealed he was suffering from moderate brain injury caused by chemical poisoning.
Whilst under the care of the Official Solicitor there were three occasions on which some of Lawrence’s assets, which he estimates to be worth £130,000, were disposed of. To prevent a power of attorney - in this case the Official Solicitor - from committing fraud then any disposal of assets requires the approval of the Court of Protection.
The Manager at the Compliance and Regulatory Unit, Office of the Public Guardian has confirmed to Lawrence that ‘The Court of Protection has no record of any application being received for him. It was clearly the responsibility of the holder of the medical certificate to ensure an application was made.’
Lawrence is being supported by the Aerotoxic Association. This is run by former airline pilots convinced they have been made ill by cabin air polluted with toxic oil fumes. The organisation seeks to bring about regulatory changes to improve air quality aboard airliners. Founder John Hoyte, who has known Lawrence for 23 years. said: “He has been badly let down by doctors who failed to diagnose and treat his illness. This was compounded by not being allowed to have someone he knew designated to look after his interests during the time he was certified. I think there needs to be a inquiry into Leonard Lawrence’s case.”
A spokesperson for the Official Solicitor said it couldn’t comment: “on ongoing litigation in which the Official Solicitor is defending a claim against Mr Lawrence against the previous office holder.”