Staff who allegedly abused people with learning difficulties at Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust could escape prosecution because of the trust's failure to involve the police when the allegations first came to light.
The inquiry, published last week by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Inspection, found reports of 64 incidents between October 2000 and October last year, including staff hitting, shoving and kicking service users and withholding food (Inspectors slam treatment of people with learning difficulties in Cornwall).
Cornwall Council said that it contacted police after 40 individuals were referred to it last year by the commissions under protection of vulnerable adults procedures.
A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Police said the force had only become aware of the full allegations following the investigation and was now trying to establish if any of the cases had previously been brought to its attention. He added that no arrests had been made.
The mother of one former trust patient told Community Care that her son recently made a statement to police, following the commissions' investigation, over alleged sexual abuse by a member of staff at Budock Hospital near Falmouth.
"I don't know why it took so long for the police to be involved - the trust are totally to blame because they treated him as though he had no rights at all," she said.
The mother of a man who was twice admitted to Budock also told Community Care she had been fighting for six years to find out why her son had sustained a serious injury to his finger and had not received adequate care.
She has written to the Healthcare Commission asking it to put in place an independent team including police to "fairly and honestly" investigate all the cases highlighted in the report.
Keith Smith, chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, which acted as an adviser to the commissions' investigation, raised concerns that the police would find it difficult to take action because of the length of time that had elapsed since many of the allegations.
See interview with Carol Tozer, Cornwall Council's adult social care director
Investigations of staff
Of 57 staff members investigated by the trust who were involved in 46 incidents between January 2000 and October 2005, 26 are still employed by the trust. Twelve were sacked, two resigned, six are being investigated or suspended, while the remainder left for health or unknown reasons.