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Posted on 23rd August 2016

National Archives reveals secret drugs trial on children

The BBC have uncovered files that show the Home Office gave the go-ahead for experimental drug trials on children at two approved schools in the 1960s.

The two schools were Richmond Hill Approved School in North Yorkshire and Springhead Park Approved School in West Yorkshire.

The trial only went ahead at the Richmond Hill School for six months in 1968, where an anticonvulsant drug was given to the most disruptive boys over 15, to see if it would control their behaviour.

The archives show no record of the outcome, nor are there any published articles in medical journals at the time.

The archive documents show discussions between three doctors, all now deceased, about the plans for the drug trials.

One psychiatrist, Dr JR Hawkings, wrote to the home office asking permission for the drug trial at Richmond Hill. He wanted to conduct the trial on boys who were “impulsive, explosive, irritable, restless and aggressive”.

He admitted in his letter that although he believed this to be a perfectly acceptable therapy for these types of boys, there had never been a test of its sort before on such a large number.

The Home Office psychiatrist, Dr Pamela Mason, welcomed the plan as she felt that the drugs would help with the “considerable problems within a school of this sort…”.

Parents were never consulted about the trial, as school managers believed assurances from Dr Hawkings and a doctor working for the pharmaceutical company was sufficient.

The trial at Springhead Park never went ahead, despite the approval from Dr Mason at the Home Office.

The archives show that the headmistress at the time, Shelagh Sunner, did not support the trial and the school’s managers subsequently blocked it, worried what the children’s parents would think.

Talking about the Home office approval, Ms Sunner told the BBC: “"I think they were scratching their head about what they were going to do with this generation of maladjusted kids - because the approved schools were full and there were a lot of them."

Approved schools were on a level between a children’s home and Borstal.

Juvenile courts would send children here, although they weren’t imprisoned. The schools were funded by the Home Office and run by voluntary organisations.

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