Scout Association ponders greater central powers after local group is sued

The parents of a boy with autism sued the charity after a group in Hertfordshire said he could not travel to events without supervision

The Scout Association is considering giving itself greater powers to intervene in disputes involving local scout groups after a group in Hertfordshire was sued for £42,000 by the parents of a boy with autism.

The association also said it planned to introduce mandatory training on developmental disabilities to all adult volunteers.

The organisation today apologised to the family of 11-year-old Ben Gleeson, a member of the 10th Harpenden Scout Group in Hertfordshire.

Ben's parents gave scout leaders in Harpenden strategies to help their son cope with autism when he joined in 2015.

But after Ben became distressed, leaders said he could not travel with the rest of the group to events or take part in athletics without supervision because of health and safety concerns.

His parents, who are both barristers, said this was an over-reaction and amounted to a ban. They claimed compensation under the Equality Act and also claimed breach of privacy, saying emails and a briefing to parents had identified them. Insurers for the scouts settled out of court.

In a statement, the association described the handling of the case as "completely unacceptable".

It said: "We have established an inquiry to investigate what went wrong in this case. 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 has agreed to be part of this inquiry.

"Our trustees are also looking at plans for mandatory training for all adult volunteers on how to make reasonable adjustments for young people with developmental disabilities, and changing national policy to allow the national leadership of the association to intervene in cases like this.

"While cases like this are very unusual, we know that action must be taken."

Local scout groups are individual charities with their own trustees.

But the spokesman told Third Sector there were "clear rules they must follow" to be members of the association.

He added: "If centrally we see a case where the rules are not being followed, which is unusual, our central trustees can take appropriate action to support.

"All this is being looked at by an inquiry going forward so there will be more clarity down track."

Third Sector was unable to contact the 10th Harpenden Scout Group for comment on Monday morning.

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