Eleven former staff of Winterbourne View are facing jail after being convicted of abusing service users at the now closed learning disability hospital. Today, Michael Ezenugu, pleaded guilty to two counts of ill-treatment of patients under the Mental Health Act 1983, joining ten other ex-Winterbourne View staff who between them admitted 36 counts of ill-treatment at the Bristol hospital.
With the offenders now facing sentence, the serious case review into the abuse will be published tomorrow. The other former members staff convicted are: Wayne Rogers; Graham Doyle; Alison Dove; Jason Gardiner; Charlotte Cotterell; Holly Draper; Kelvin Fore; Sookalingun Appoo; Danny Brake; and Neil Ferguson. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has asked the judge in the case, Judge Fox, to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, which would increase the level of sentences.
"Disabled people can be victims of crime due to their perceived vulnerability, particularly where there is an unequal relationship, such as where the perpetrator is the victim's carer," said CPS complex case team head Ann Redropp. "At Winterbourne View, people who should have been able to trust their carers had that trust cruelly and repeatedly abused."
The offences came to light through secret filming by a BBC Panorama reporter, posing as a support worker. The programme had been approached by nurse Terry Bryan, who had unsuccessfully raised his concerns about ill-treatment of service users with the hospital's management and the Care Quality Commission.
Police paid tribute to Bryan and other whistleblowers involved in the case. "Had it not been for the actions of individuals who raised concerns about the neglect and cruelty suffered by the victims at Winterbourne View, this wholly unacceptable behaviour would have continued unchecked," said Avon and Somerset Constabulary head of CID Det Supt Louisa Rolfe.
CQC chair Dame Jo Williams said: “We are committed to do all we can to protect vulnerable people – and we apologise to patients at Winterbourne View, and their families, for our failure do so quickly enough in this case."
The offence and the sentence
Section 127 of the Mental Health Act 1983 makes it an offence for employees of care homes or hospitals to ill-treat or wilfully neglect anyone being treated for mental disorder on the premises, whether as an inpatient or an outpatient. The Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2007 increased the maximum sentence for such an offence to five years.
However, under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, offences motivated by hostility to people based on their disability carry an increased sentence. So if the judge agrees with the CPS that these were disability hate crimes, sentences could exceed five years.
The serious case review and other reviews
South Gloucestershire Safeguarding Adults Board will publish tomorrow the serious case review (SCR) into the abuse at Winterbourne View, which has been chaired by adult protection expert Margaret Flynn.
It will explore the roles of organisations including care provider Castlebeck, which ran the hospital, the CQC, commissioners who placed people at Winterbourne View and South Gloucestershire Council in its safeguarding capacity.
Alongside the SCR, a review into NHS commissioning of places at Winterbourne View will be published, and the CQC will publish its own review into its role in the case.
Mithran Samuel is Community Care's adults' editor.
Photo: (top row, left to right) Alison Dove, Charlotte Cotterell, Danny Brake, Graham Doyle; (middle row, left to right) Holly Draper, Jason Gardiner, Kelvin Fore, Michael Ezenagu; (bottom row, left to right) Neil Ferguson, Sookalingun Appoo and Wayne Rogers
Full story on Winterbourne View