Three nursing home staff who mocked, bullied and assaulted residents with dementia were today jailed for their crimes, while a fourth was sentenced to a community order.
The sentencings of Darren Smith, Katie Cairns, Carol Moore and Gemma Pearson follow a multi-agency investigation into abuse at the Throstle Grove home in Slyne-with-Hest, Lancaster, run by Hillcroft Nursing Homes, between May 2010 to September 2011.
All four were convicted at Preston Crown Court of ill-treating people in their care who lack the mental capacity to take relevant decisions, under section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
But while welcoming the prosecutions, the families of victims have hit out at Lancashire County Council for delays in passing on allegations to the police. A whistleblower had raised the allegations with the Care Quality Commission in February 2012, and the regulator then passed these on to the council. But concerns were not reported to the police until May 2012, for which the council has apologised.
Smith pleaded guilty to eight offences and was jailed for eight months; Cairns was found guilty of three offences and jailed for five months; Moore was jailed for four months after being found guilty of one offence; and Pearson was given a 12-month community order and 12-month supervision requirement after being convicted of one offence.
Lancashire Constabulary said that the four had bullied, mocked and, on occasions, assaulted victims, with most of the offences relating to throwing bean bags and balls deliberately at residents.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Hulme praised staff who came forward to report the abuse, saying they “displayed great courage and decency in speaking out against this despicable behaviour.”
“This couldn’t have been an easy thing for them to do, but what I must emphasise is the families’ gratitude to them for coming forward.”
He also praised the families of victims, who he said were still “struggling to come to terms with the terrible acts inflicted on their loved ones”.
In a statement, the families said they hoped the custodial sentences issued to Smith, Moore and Cairns “sends out a clear message that this type of crime will not be tolerated”.
However, they slammed Hillcroft Nursing Homes for not reporting the allegations to the CQC or Lancashire council when the company was informed in September 2011. They also criticised the council for an “unacceptable length of time” in passing the allegations on to the police.
In response, cabinet member for adult and community services Tony Martin said: “We are sorry there was a delay in sharing the allegations with the police, and since April 2013 all safeguarding alerts we receive are now passed to a multi-agency safeguarding hub, where they are dealt with by social workers, health workers and police officers working alongside each other.
“County council staff also meet regularly with colleagues from health services and the Care Quality Commission to share any concerns about care providers and agree any action that needs be taken to help keep people safe.”
A multi-agency learning review has been taking place alongside the prosecution and will report in due course. Throstle Grove was required to make improvements by the CQC in 2012 after the regulator found it to be failing on standards relating to safeguarding, staffing and monitoring the quality of care.
All five care homes run by Hillcroft, including Throstle Grove, met all standards they were assessed against at their last CQC inspections. Hulme said he was confident that “all appropriate safeguards” were in place at the provider’s homes.