Secret Drugs Testing In Yorkshire School In 1960’s Revealed
Papers released by the National Archives reveal that secret drugs tests were conducted during the 1960’s at a school in Yorkshire. Files show that staff at Richmond Hill Approved School were given permission to use anti-convulsant drugs. These were experimental in nature but aimed at boys aged 15 and older who were considered highly disruptive.
The use of drugs to try and control aggressive behaviour is nothing new. For it to have been tried on children is highly unusual. The files show that neither the boys, nor their families, were asked to consent to the use of the drugs. While giving of medication was known to all, the type and purpose of the medicines was not common knowledge amongst the boys or even staff.
The files show that a psychiatrist linked to the school had requested Home Office permission for the trial use of drugs. He applied for permission to use Beclamide on boys who were “impulsive, explosive, irritable, restless and aggressive.” Beclamide was more commonly used as a epilepsy medicine but also sedated adults. The test was to see if it would calm and control the behaviour of boys at the school. Beclamide is no longer in use as it has been superseded by more effective sedatives and anti-convulsants.
Dr. Hawkins, the psychiatrist, suggested in his request that the use would be a perfectly legitimate treatment, though noted that there was no evidence of how adolescents would react to such medicines.
Perhaps amazingly, the Home Office agreed that the testing of drugs in a school was a good idea. Records from 1967 show that the Home Office psychiatrist reviewing the request noted:
From the clinical or practical point of view these are the boys that can produce considerable problems within a school and this sort of research into possible drug treatment is to be welcomed…
I would recommend maximum support for this project.
And so boys aged 15 and older were selected for the drugs test. The records show that there was a test group alongside the active group. A second application, from the ‘sister’ school of Richmond Hill was also submitted. Again, the Home Office welcomed it. This time however, the test did not go forward as the headmistress of the girls school opposed the idea.