THE HEARTBROKEN parents of a little boy with learning difficulties who was denied access to a Scout group are demanding change in the organisation after winning a hard-fought legal battle.
Clare and Barry Coyne were left devastated when leaders of the 36th Sheffield Scouts refused to allow their autistic son to progress to the group after four years with younger sections of the branch, the Beavers and Cubs.
The youngster, now 11, was due to move up in July last year, but two months prior mother-of-two Mrs Coyne was informed via email that he “would not be coming up to Scouts”.
In discussions group leaders told Mr and Mrs Coyne, who volunteered for Cub committees and accompanied their son to sessions, were told their child posed a “significant health and safety risk to other Scouts and himself”.
Mrs Coyne, of Fulwood, Sheffield said: “When he started at Beavers he could say about seven words and now he’s this articulate, funny, happy boy. It helped him so much.
“He is in special needs education and even though it is amazing, this allowed him to make friends near his home and do something in his own community. The whole family were very much involved with both groups, my 13-year-old daughter is a member of the same Scouts. I couldn’t believe they chose to tell me via email. They didn’t try and explain why, or have a discussion with us. It was horrific after four very happy years.”
Prior to the dispute, the Coynes had enjoyed a close relationship with scout leaders and
But when they made a formal complaint to the district commander for the Scout Association, a row ensued.
The Scout troop cited an incident where the youngster had “made a mess” by shredding newspapers during a Cub craft session as one of the reasons for refusing him entry.
Sheffield Advice and Law Centre took on the case and a county court upheld the complaint schoolboy was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his disability, while the judge also said his family were “victimised” during the row.
“We would have done anything to get him back in but it disintegrated into unpleasantness,” continued Mrs Coyne. “Instead we had to tell him Scouts was full.”
The youngster, who has not been named, won £5,000 which will be kept by courts until he is 18.
Mr and Mrs Coyne penned a letter to the Scout Association calling for better training for leaders to ensure no other family is forced to endure a similar ordeal.
Mrs Coyne said: “We faced huge legal costs if we lost, but I felt a duty to fight this for other children out there.”
The couple are yet to receive an apology from the organisation, or reassurances that lessons have been learned.
Douglas Johnson, the family’s legal advocate, said: “We are calling on the association to learn from this case. Court proceedings could easily have been avoided if the local Scout group had handled the complaint better.”
A spokesman for the Scout Association said: “Matters were concluded with the family some months ago.
“We do intend to take on board any lessons learned in this case and will continue to offer Scouting provision to all young people. Our volunteer team is passionate about making sure we offer Scouting to as many young people as possible whatever their needs.”