Review – Justice for Laughing Boy: Connor Sparrowhawk – A Death by Indifference

Justice for Laughing Boy – Sara Ryan


Every so often I read a book that I find difficult to review. Justice for Laughing Boy is one of those books. Even sitting here and trying to think of exactly what words to put down in review of this book seems like an impossible task, but I will do my best.

For those who have not followed the media around this case, the summary of events is this: Connor Sparrowhawk was a young autistic man who died under the care of and because of the failures and inadequacies within Southern Health NHS foundation trust. This is the reason this book was written, which only serves to make it more difficult to review – it should never have had to have been written.

Connor is who Connor is, really. A friend who had known him since he was a baby said that someone recently asked him what Connor was like. He said he couldn’t say much other than he’s ‘just Connor’ and that pretty much sums him up.

There isn’t any way that this review could really say who Connor was – everything would pale in comparison to the words written about him in this book. As parts of Connor’s personality and life unfold through each chapter – intermingled through the uphill struggle that his family faced in seeking justice for him – there is this strange culmination of anger and devastation and frustration. As if the loss of their son and brother wasn’t enough, more pain was shoveled onto his family by Southern Health NHS as they denied their failings each step of the way before finally admitting their guilt last month.

At this stage, we had no idea what we didn’t know but should have known. We had no idea that Connor’s death would generate a groundbreaking social movement and lead to the uncovering of systematic failure to investigate the deaths of certain patients in the UK.

Death by Indifference is, sadly, not a new term. For many years people have been arguing against the seeming lack of concern of interest in the high levels of deaths – many preventable – amongst people with learning disabilities. A common theme voiced by families and echoed in this book is that of ‘if only someone had listened to us’. People with learning disabilities die every year because of failures in understanding and consideration throughout many services, not just in the medical profession. This is why this book is so important in so many ways. There have been reports and there have been accounts before about the preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities; none so far have hit quite so hard as the wider context of this book.

Sara Ryan says as much herself that this book, that all the inquest proceedings, and that the impact their resolve hopefully will have on services in general, could not have been achieved without the powerful, collective involvement of the people who joined Connor’s family in refusing to allow his death to be swept under the carpet. This book is as much about that combined strength and determination as it is about the failings of the system.

As I said, reviewing this book was hard so I will leave on this final note: Connor was a young man with a whole life ahead of him and the utter indifference of those who were meant to help him and his family resulted in his death, which is why this is a story that is far too important to go unheard. Read this book.


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