Scouts apologise to Harpenden boy with autism following disability discrimination

Ben Gleeson (right) with his brother James. Picture: Scala.

Ben Gleeson (right) with his brother James. Picture: Scala. - Credit: Archant

The family of a Harpenden boy with autism has received an apology from the Scouts after suffering from discrimination and the leaking of their confidential data.

Ben Gleeson, 11, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, had been with The Scout Association since he was a Beaver before becoming part of 10th Harpenden Scout Group.

His mother, Beverly, describes him as a: “highly intelligent, funny, articulate and kind young boy, with an extensive vocabulary. He is extremely likeable, kind and generous”.

However following a misunderstanding with shoes at a camp, he was told he could no longer ride on the Scout bus and would need one-to-one supervision for activities he had previously done unaided.

In addition to this, confidential information about the family was leaked at a meeting between parents and leaders, who branded Beverly a ‘bad mother’ and Ben’s father Mark a ‘safety risk’.

Because of this treatment, the family has received a £42,000 settlement from The Scout Association.

Mark Gleeson said: “This case was never about money. It was about forcing change within the Scout Association to ensure it is accessible to all children.

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“Ben’s brother and sister are active members and we wanted Ben to be too. He absolutely loved his time in the Scouts and was incredibly upset when he could no longer attend.”

The compensation payment has been met by insurance and Ben’s compensation will be put in a trust while his parents have made a donation to an autism charity.

Chris Fry from Fry Law, representing the family, said: “The Scouting Association has pledged to make significant changes to how they treat autistic children, so this is the real win.

“Sadly it is often the case those who have been discriminated against on the grounds of disability are forced to make legal challenges to bring about change.”

The Association said: “The handling of Ben’s case was completely unacceptable. We are very sorry Ben and his family were not supported as they should have been by their Cub Scout pack, and we have made a personal apology to them.

“We have established an inquiry to investigate what went wrong. We are very keen for Ben’s parents to contribute and we have been in contact with them to see if they would be willing to take part. The National Autistic Society have agreed to be part of this inquiry.”

The pack and district leaders will also undergo training to improve how they support people with developmental disabilities.