7:00am Sunday 15th April 2012
By Lawrence Dunhill
NICK Poole’s life has fallen apart since he was accused of an arson attack he did not commit - and he is pleading with the NHS to give him more help to move on from the nightmare.
The 25-year-old, who lives in High Wycombe, was left traumatised by what unfolded after a blaze broke out in the building where he worked.
He had been working a bar shift at the Mill End community centre in Rickmansworth on April 3, 2008, when a fire alarm in the kitchen went off.
Despite dialling 999, Nick was arrested after fire investigators said the fire was started deliberately.
Nick denied the allegations throughout and told the Bucks Free Press that prosecutors based their case on him being the only person in the building during the hour before the alarm was raised.
When the case came to trial in November 2009, a defence expert said the flames could have been smouldering from before this time.
According to press reports, the jury at St Albans Crown Court took just half-an-hour to deliver a not guilty verdict.
That should have spelled the end of the ordeal, but Nick said: "We were trying to rebuild but the relief and shock was too much and sent me downhill.
"There was so much stress from what I’d gone through. For 18 months I couldn’t even talk to my mum because she was a key witness in my defence."
He began having ‘sleep attacks’, where he would fall into a state of altered consciousness, or ‘dissociation’.
Sometimes this would result in him trying to lodge himself inside a confined space like the drum of a tumble dryer or the space behind a radiator.
More seriously, his friends and family would often find Nick, who then lived with his parents in Chalfont St Peter, violently hitting his head with fist, and would struggle to ‘wake him up’ or physically stop him.
These attacks tend to be triggered by flashbacks to the court case, but Nick says they can also be brought on by stress or anxiety.
He has also developed a form of agoraphobia, meaning he is afraid to leave his home in New Road, Sands, and has had to put his working life on hold.
Over the past three years the attacks have resulted in numerous 999 calls and trips to A&E, and Nick says he is now well known by some emergency doctors.
He first told his GP about the problems in late 2009, and was referred to Buckinghamshire’s mental health trust, which is now called Oxford Health.
But according to Nick, there has since been a failure to understand the complexity of his condition.
He says there have been repeated delays as he was passed between different departments within Oxford Health, while there has been a breakdown in relations with some of the staff.
Nick says he has been unable to cope with the therapy being offered, while the reception at one of the treatment venues reminds him of the dock in a criminal court.
He started doing his own research, seeking out organisations which offer specialist treatment for his problems, which his GP says involve a dissociative disorder, as well as a histrionic personality disorder.
Nick points to guidance from Mind, the mental health charity, which says "many mental health professionals do not receive appropriate training on dissociative distress".
He said: "Someone needs to build up a rapport with me and I need to feel safe and secure. My GP has been referring me and done everything in his power but it’s just not happening."
However, when he has asked the NHS to fund alternative options, such as a specialist centre in Norfolk, Nick says he was directed back to Oxford Health.
The NHS Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Cluster's guidance says treatment with alternative providers would only be funded for 'exceptional health needs'.
This would need to be detailed, with evidence, in a formal individual funding request. Nick says this has now been submitted.
Oxford Health said it was unable to disclose any personal information about Mr Poole, or his care and treatment.
When the Bucks Free Press asked, in general terms, if it has the capacity to offer specialist treatment for dissociative disorder, it again claimed this was covered by patient confidentiality.
Its website displayed 'no results' under searches for dissociation or dissociative disorder.
Meanwhile, Nick's problems mean he has all but given up canoeing and being a voluntary scout leader - the two things he enjoyed most.
A long-time family friend has been acting as his carer, while he relies on his parents financially.
He added: "I’m trying to learn how to cope with it and it hurts me to see the aggro and damage it’s causing the people trying to care for me.
"It’s destroyed my life, it’s stopped me socialising and earning a living. I don’t know how I’m still surviving trying to fight it. I'm just grateful to my friends and family for supporting me."
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