An ‘unreliable’ witness

This week’s multi-disciplinary panel discusses the rape of a
woman with learning difficulties by a day centre care worker.

Practice panel Bath and North East Somerset learning
difficulties team.

Panel responses

Clare Wallace
I am concerned at the lack of support offered to Antonia by the day centre
and the absence of requests for advice from partner organisations. There
appears to have been little support offered to Antonia or her family during the
period following her disclosure of the rape, the process of the investigation,
and when the decision was made not to proceed with the prosecution. She could
have had representation from a solicitor with experience in advising people
with a learning difficulty, and from members of a multi-disciplinary team. She
could also have had an independent advocate to assist her.

Using a person-centred planning approach – that is,
listening to Antonia and acting upon her wishes – would enable local
practitioners, including the children’s learning difficulties team, to focus on
what is best for Antonia. This might include assisting her to deal with any
health-related concerns: for example, visiting her GP; a genito-urinary
medicine (GUM) clinic (which now deal with sexually transmitted diseases);
gaining pregnancy or contraceptive advice; using the rape crisis helpline; and
receiving counselling support to help her make sense of what had happened and
come to terms with the emotions resulting from such an incident. Assessment by
the occupational therapist and speech and language therapist could ensure that
Antonia’s communication is effective and that the level of support reflects her
needs. She appears to have skills that she may wish to use in different
environments, and may benefit from accessing the development education association
(DEA), college courses or other training settings.

The use of an inter-agency procedure for the protection of
vulnerable adults will clarify the responsibilities of those providing support,
and aid a better understanding of the roles of police and the legal system,
while ensuring that the individual is supported throughout the process.

The future arrangements for Antonia would need to be dealt
with sensitively. With the support of an independent advocate she could say
what she wants, and make informed choices about her future. The use of a
person-centred planning approach would support this process.

Lisa Loveridge
The government guidance No Secrets says that every local authority should
have an inter-agency procedure for the protection of vulnerable adults. It
would appear that such a procedure has not been followed in this case.

Before an investigation, a risk assessment should be
undertaken to indicate the likelihood of further risks to Antonia. Antonia and
the agencies involved should agree how to take things forward. I am concerned
about the apparent lack of consideration of Antonia’s feelings and advocacy

I would like to know why the member of staff at the day
centre was not suspended, as this decision should have been documented and
endorsed by the senior manager responsible for the investigation (No Secrets).
Perhaps disciplinary procedures were inadequate or not followed. I would hope
that senior managers would reflect on the process to learn lessons for the

I also have questions about the way in which police handled
the situation:

– Was an appropriate adult present when police interviewed

– If the day care worker was not responsible for the rape,
what action have they taken to find the perpetrator?

– Was Antonia provided with a service that met her access

Services provided by police might be improved through closer
working with the local partnership board, working more closely with local
groups of people with learning difficulties or the community team.

A key government objective set out in the Valuing People
white paper is to enable people with learning difficulties to have choice and
control over their lives through advocacy, and a person-centred approach to
planning support. I would involve an independent advocate to ensure that
Antonia was able to formally complain and to fully take part in any decisions
and case conferences. She may also want support to challenge the police
decision that she is an unreliable witness, or to begin a civil prosecution.
Support offered to her must not contaminate the evidence.

I hope that all agencies will work in partnership with
Antonia to move the situation on through an agreed adult protection plan. This
needs to address issues around Antonia’s safety and well-being. Consideration
needs to be given to the attitude of staff at the day centre towards Antonia
returning. Antonia would need support throughout this process.

Case study

Situation: Antonia Rush (not her real name) is a 26-year-old
woman with learning difficulties. She lives at home with her mother, two
brothers and three sisters. She attends a local authority day centre three days
a week where she is working on improving her fairly competent writing and
reading skills, and where she helps run the users’ cafe. She travels to and
from the centre on her own.

Problem: Antonia disclosed to her mother that she had been
raped by one of the care staff at the day centre during lunchtime. Social
services and police were notified. Following interviews and despite there being
evidence of unlawful intercourse, police decided not to proceed with
prosecution as Antonia was considered an unreliable witness, although she can
speak up for herself. The day centre similarly decided against investigating or
taking any disciplinary action against the named worker, who, indeed, had not
even been suspended while police conducted their enquiries. Antonia says she
wants to return to the day centre – as all her friends are there and it’s her
only time away – but not if the care worker remains. The day centre manager
suggests that if Antonia wants to come back she should do so but put the past
behind her. The care worker concerned will not be moved as no charges have been
brought. Antonia was told that if she finds their decision unacceptable, she
should try another day centre.

User view

This is very wrong. I think Antonia should get in touch with
her councillor, her MP and even the Labour government, writes Alison Gibbons.
She should get legal advice from the police but they do not seem to have been
very helpful. How can they know something has happened and yet do nothing? I
don’t understand that.

It seems to me that Antonia needs to speak to somebody. If
it can’t be the police she could seek help and speak to other groups about her
problems. Or she could talk to someone from social services, her care manager
or her key worker at the day centre – if she gets on OK with them. She could
try and talk to her learning disability nurse also.

I feel that the day centre should have understood Antonia’s
problem. They are not being sensitive or sympathetic at all. It sounds like a
Disability Discrimination Act problem as much as being the fault of the manager
at the day centre.

They think Antonia is telling lies not the truth. What happened
to her is not very nice at all. It can make you feel dirty inside. It can make
you not trust people ever again. People can call you names like
"spastic" and call you cornflakes names as well. There should be a
law against this very thing.

It sounds like Antonia needs someone to talk to – she needs
help with this problem. She needs help from someone like an advocate or maybe
even an adviser. She needs the help of something like a People First group. She
would get help and support and be able to put her point of view across.

A day centre is supposed to be there to help you. It is
supposed to be your friend. Antonia should be treated like a friend, but it
sounds like harassment and bullying is OK at this day centre. And that is not
right, not right at all.

I feel the worker who has been accused of raping Antonia –
it says there is proof – should be sacked or at least asked to leave the
premises. It’s not right that they should say that if Antonia doesn’t like it
she should go somewhere else. She has done nothing wrong. She is feeling hurt
and upset. And when you are feeling hurt and upset you don’t know who to turn
to for help.

As for what can happen in the future – I think a lot could
be done. For a start they could set up a drop-in centre where people can come
and talk about their problems and what to do next. Or they could start up a
People First group.

Alison Gibbons, who uses a day centre, is a chairperson
of People First Caithness.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.