When Sebastian Hardy was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of six, nobody could have predicted the terrible events which would devastate his family 15 years on. Polly Rippon finds out more about the condition and the help available for those with the condition.
JusT before 1am on Saturday September 25 2101, Sebastian Hardy dialled 999 and told the operator he wanted to confess to a murder.
When asked by the caller who he’d killed, he calmly told the police: “my mother... I knifed her to death... I lost my temper”.
The chilling emergency call, described as “flat and emotionless” by a judge, was played to a jury at Sheffield Crown Court during an unusual hearing following the investigation into the death of 48-year-old Pamela Hardy.
Mr Hardy, a small, frail-looking 21-year-old man, seemed out of place as he sat quietly in the dock - a place usually reserved for more hardened criminals - trying to follow the proceedings.
Judge Alan Goldsack QC ruled he was unfit to face a criminal trial for his mother’s murder on the advice of two psychiatrists because of his condition.
The court was told because of his Asperger - which affects patients’ ability to communicate properly - he was unable to follow the proceedings or give instructions to his barristers. A jury was empanelled and found that he had committed the killing.
Mr Hardy was made the subject of a hospital order and is now detained indefinitely in a medium secure hospital in Nottingham, where he will receive treatment for his Asperger Syndrome - a form of autism.
Now a national charity has urged families of patients not to suffer in silence and seek help from experts after Mrs Hardy’s tragic death.
The director of education at the National Autistic Society called for better understanding of the condition and the effect it can have - not just on those with the condition but on their families and carers. And she urged those caring for people with autism and Asperger Syndrome to seek help from the charity.
Jane Vaughan said: “Our thoughts are with the Hardy family at this very difficult time. This tragic case highlights the need for ongoing support and understanding for families affected by autism.
“Parents regularly tell us of the struggle they face in accessing appropriate support and we know that some have to cope every day with extremely challenging and complex needs.”
She urged families to call the charity’s free helpline for information and advice about its local services. The jury heard Pamela and Sebastian Hardy lived together in Wombwell, Barnsley.
Mr Hardy had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, aged six, possibly after suffering a brain virus and spending several weeks in hospital when he was two.
Mrs Hardy and her husband David had three other children, Caroline, now aged 28, Samantha, 26, and David junior, 23.
Sister Caroline told the court the whole family had been affected by Sebastian’s condition and in 1999 her parents marriage broke down.
Her mother, brother David and Sebastian moved to Wombwell, but following the breakdown of her marriage Mrs Hardy started drinking heavily and David Jnr eventually left home, leaving Mrs Hardy and Sebastian.
Caroline, who lived with her partner nearby, regularly visited to help her mother with Sebastian, who was unable to look after himself. She said as a child he had attended The Robert Ogden School for autistic children in Barnsley and at the time of the killing, regularly attended a day centre in West Yorkshire.
In a statement read to the court Caroline said as a child her brother was very unaware of his surroundings. He wasn’t allowed out on his own because he had a habit of suddenly running at high speed, even towards traffic.
Miss Hardy said as a teenager Mr Hardy could be very aggressive and he had set routines which he had to stick to.
She said: “If these became disrupted, Sebastian could become aggressive. He would break objects, grab hold of people and strike or bite them.”
Caroline said Sebastian was also unable to care for himself - his clothes had to be chosen for him and he had to be reminded to eat. He would never wear a coat, even in winter, and once she had to buy him three different sized jumpers to keep him warm.
She also recalled he would only wear jeans from British Home Stores in Barnsley and when the store closed it was a “nightmare” trying to find jeans he would wear.
The judge said it was perhaps the years of caring for Sebastian which had driven Mrs Hardy to drink. In the months before her death she had attended two detoxification programmes in a bid to give up drinking but had been unable to kick the habit.
On the day of the killing Caroline visited Sebastian and her mother and found her mum had been drinking. She was worried her mum was neglecting Sebastian and the pair had rowed after Caroline refused to buy her cigarettes.
During the row, she said Sebastian was pacing up and down, smacking himself in the head and shouting “oh God, oh God”.
A few hours later he was to tell the 999 operator he and his mother had an argument about his older sister and he’d lost his temper and stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife.
Detective inspector Jade Brice from South Yorkshire Police who investigated the killing said: “The investigation into the death of Pamela Hardy has revealed a tragic set of circumstances which has had a devastating effect on the family. Not only have they had to come to terms with the loss of Pamela, they’ve also had to learn what Sebastian did to his mother and how the judicial process has to deal with him.
“The result of the hearing is that Sebastian Hardy will not be at liberty for considerable time, and possibly for life, but he will be detained in a safe environment where he will receive continuous treatment and assessment.
“I hope this goes some way towards bringing about closure for the family.”
For help and advice call the National Autistic Society’s Autism free helpline on 0808 8004104.
Living with Autism
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people.
It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.
Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may need a lifetime of specialist support.
Autism affects people in many different ways, however, all people with autism share difficulties in communicating and interacting, as well as understanding the world around them.
Difficulty recognising and understanding other people’s feelings, making it hard to form friendships.
Difficulty using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
Difficulty understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behaviour and to imagine situations outside of their own routine. This can be accompanied by a narrow repetitive range of activities.
If you suspect someone you know is autistic contact your GP or call the NAS Autism Helpline on 0808 8004104, email email@example.com or log on to www.autism.org.uk/autismdirectory.
The NAS has a branch in Rotherham, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07554 439427. It meets every other Friday from 1pm until 2.30pm in term time only.
Members help and support each other and share experiences. Speakers are invited to attend and social outings arranged.
Sheffield Autistic Society - www.shauties.org.uk
Other services in Sheffield - www.autism.org.uk/directory/
The National Autistic Society - www.autism.org.uk