08:48, November 28 310 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-28 08:48:04
Other lives  Manuela Sykes obituary

Manuela Sykes, who has died aged 92, devoted much of her life to political activism and, at a late age, won a landmark legal case over the right of individuals with dementia to publicise any challenge they make to their living conditions.

Manuela was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to Arthur Sykes, a Yorkshireman who was at one time in the Canadian mounted police, and his wife, Manuela von Hundelshausen, of German and Dutch heritage. After attending Richmond County school for girls in south-west London, Manuela served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service during the second world war, then studied international affairs at University College London, where she was secretary of the student union, staging a sit-in soon after her arrival when she discovered that women were banned from the junior common room.

A committed Christian, feminist and vocal champion of the dispossessed, the homeless, and animals, she volunteered at the pioneering social care unit for homeless people at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, where she worshipped for more than 70 years. In 1958, in Covent Garden, she and her mother took over a workers’ cafe in King Street, serving pie and mash and spotted dick to hungry market porters, although perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Manuela was a vegetarian, the business was shortlived.

She stood unsuccessfully for parliament in seven elections, including five times for the Liberals – in Finchley, Ipswich, and Falmouth and Camborne – during the 1950s and 60s. When she came to disagree with Liberal support for the Common Market she switched, in 1967, to become a member of the Labour party, whose candidate she was in a 1972 byelection in Uxbridge. The first 1974 general election was her last (again in Uxbridge); after that she became a Westminster city councillor in London.

During the 70s and 80s Manuela was also a senior figure in the Industrial Common Ownership Movement, a body that sought to give employees ownership of the businesses they worked for. She wrote three books, the most notable of which was The Role of Common Ownership Enterprise in the Economic and Social Regeneration of Areas of High Unemployment (1982). Additionally, for more than 40 years she edited The Voice, a trade union newspaper.

In 2006 Manuela was diagnosed with dementia and by 2014 she was living in a care home. However, she embarked on a legal battle that persuaded a judge in the court of protection not only to allow her to return to her own home, but, unprecendently, to be named in media reports of her case.

At the time I was an in-house lawyer at the Independent newspaper, co-ordinating several media applications for permission to report on previously closed court of protection hearings, and it was during that work, although not involved in her case, that I came to know of Manuela. The case gained significant public attention.

While her victory was hailed as an important boost for the rights of people with dementia, Manuela’s return to her house proved unsustainable: she was back in the care home after a few weeks.

She is survived by her two nieces.