Dead boy’s mu­ral to re­turn

Manawatu Standard - - Front Page - Max­ine Jacobs max­[email protected]

A respite home that painted over a dis­abled teenager’s me­mo­rial mu­ral will re­turn it to its orig­i­nal state.

NZ Care Dis­abil­ity, own­ers of Palmer­ston North’s Woburn Fam­ily Sup­port Cen­tre, came un­der fire when Stuff re­ported Nathan Booker had been re­moved from his own me­mo­rial mu­ral.

Nathan, 15, had a pro­found in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity, cere­bral palsy, spas­tic quadriple­gia and epilepsy. He was also paral­ysed on the left side of his body and had a men­tal age of 6 months.

He drowned when his carer left him in the bath alone at Woburn Fam­ily Sup­port Cen­tre in Palmer­ston North on Jan­uary 10, 2014. Nathan would have turned 22 this year.

His mother An­gela Middlemiss, 45, was vis­ited by NZ

Care Dis­abil­ity staff on Tues­day to dis­cuss why Nathan’s name and face had been painted out.

She ex­pected more ex­cuses, but they didn’t hes­i­tate to ‘‘wave the white flag’’ and own the mis­take.

‘‘I thought we were go­ing to have a fight on our hands ... [but] she said, ‘look, there’s no ex­cuses. We’re not go­ing to make any. How can we fix it?’

‘‘I get the im­pres­sion they weren’t aware of it. I’m glad they’re go­ing to re­in­state it. It shouldn’t have hap­pened, but they’re try­ing to fix it.

‘‘I know it’s not my build­ing and not my de­ci­sion what hap­pens to it, but to me it was a com­fort and a re­minder of how dan­ger­ous it can be [for dis­abled peo­ple in respite care].’’

For­mer own­ers of the home, Idea Ser­vices, com­mis­sioned a mu­ral de­signed by Middlemiss as a trib­ute to Nathan’s life.

The paint­ing, in the respite home’s court­yard, cel­e­brated ev­ery­thing he loved – a fire truck, sun­flow­ers and bal­loons spell­ing his name, with Nathan step­ping out of his wheel­chair and walk­ing into the stars at the end of a path.

But when vis­it­ing the mu­ral with her fam­ily just be­fore New Year’s, Middlemiss said it was a ‘‘kick in the guts’’ to find Nathan’s name had been painted

over with ad­di­tional bal­loons and the im­age of him ex­punged.

‘‘If I’d known they were go­ing to do that I wouldn’t have been happy about it, but I would have gone down there quickly with fam­ily and taken some more pic­tures.’’

NZ Care Dis­abil­ity con­firmed the com­pany was aware of Nathan’s story when speak­ing with Middlemiss, de­spite pre­vi­ous claims it was ‘‘not aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of the mu­ral be­fore we worked with a lo­cal school on a com­mu­nity-based project that in­volved the mu­ral’’.

NZ Care Dis­abil­ity now says it will re­in­state the mu­ral and com­mis­sion a smaller can­vas of the paint­ing so there will al­ways be a pic­ture of Nathan’s trib­ute for the fam­ily, Middlemiss said.

‘‘The un­der­stand­ing that I’ve got is some­one made the de­ci­sion that’s not there any more. I think it was just some­body that de­cided to paint over it with­out ask­ing.

‘‘They’re go­ing to find the artist or bring in an­other per­son if they can’t find him. But say­ing it and do­ing it are two dif­fer­ent things.’’

Health­care NZ, NZ Care Dis­abil­ity’s par­ent com­pany, was ap­proached for com­ment.

An­gela Middlemiss stands in front of the mu­ral for her dead son Nathan Booker, as it used to look, at the Woburn Fam­ily Sup­port Cen­tre.

DAVID UN­WIN/STUFF

Nathan Booker’s me­mo­rial mu­ral is to be re­in­stated af­ter he was painted out of it by the respite home in which he died.

DAVID UN­WIN/STUFF

An­gela Middlemiss, mother of Nathan Booker, who drowned at the respite cen­tre in 2014, is glad the mu­ral will be fixed.

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