Care workers plead guilty to ill-treatment


ELEVEN STAFF at an English care home owned by Irish investors, including Denis Brosnan, JP McManus, Dermot Desmond and John Magnier, have pleaded guilty to ill-treating patients.

The last of the 11 charged, Michael Ezenagu (29), pleaded guilty yesterday at Bristol Crown Court to the offences that were revealed by a BBC television Panorama investigation last year.

Secretly recorded film showed patients being held down, slapped, mocked and doused in water at the Winterbourne View home – part of the Castlebeck group bought by the Irish investors in 2005.

“People who should have been able to trust their carers had that trust cruelly and repeatedly abused,” said the head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s Complex Case Team, Ann Redropp.

The Crown Prosecution Service had treated the offences as “disability hate crimes” and will look for the toughest possible sentences when the 11 are sentenced next month.

Police paid tribute to the whistleblowers who went to the BBC after they had tried and failed to get management at Winterbourne View to deal with the allegations.

Neglect and cruelty “would have continued unchecked” if the whistleblowers had not taken action, said Det Chief Supt Louisa Rolfe of Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

The 11 accused – Michael Ezenagu, Wayne Rogers, Graham Doyle, Allison Dove, Jason Gardiner, Charlotte Cotterell, Holly Draper, Kelvin Fore, Sookalingun Appoo, Danny Brake, and Neil Ferguson – pleaded guilty to 38 charges under the Mental Health Act.

Since the scandal was first revealed, Castlebeck has closed Winterbourne View and two of its other homes in Britain, following concerns raised by the regulator, the Care Quality Commission.

However, the regulator has itself come in for criticism for failing to respond to the allegations of ill-treatment that were also brought to its attention before the whistleblowers went to the BBC.

The Care Quality Commission’s head, Dame Jo Williams, accepted responsibility yesterday: “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 prosecution of the 11 “sends out a clear message that care staff who abuse vulnerable people will be charged and brought before the courts . . . There is a responsibility on all of us to report such behaviour so that firm action can be taken to protect people and, when the evidence is there, to prosecute those responsible.”

The South Gloucestershire Safeguarding Adults Board is expected to publish a “serious case review” – an inquiry undertaken into the handling of major complaints – into the Bristol scandal today.

Castlebeck was bought in 2006 for £255 million by the Swiss-based Lydian Capital Partners, set up by Mr Brosnan as a private investment company after he stood down as chief executive of Kerry Group. He was joined by Mr McManus, Mr Desmond and Mr Magnier, and other wealthy Irish.

Profits at Castlebeck, which charges the National Health Service up to £3,500 per week for each patient with learning disabilities and other difficulties, increased substantially subsequently, up from £18 million in 2007 to over £31 million in 2009.

Faced with the allegations last year, Castlebeck’s directors – who then included Mr Brosnan’s son, Paul, among their number – brought in outside experts to hold an independent inquiry into care standards at all of its 56 British carehomes. This led to substantial changes in management and rules.

In one of the film clips, broadcast by the Panorama team, a male nurse is seen goading a patient to take their own life and subjecting others to cold showers. Another clip shows a patient pinned to the floor by a chair.

Having tried to take their own life by jumping through a window, a patient was told: “Go on, do it now I’m here. You will go flying. When you hit the floor, do you reckon you will make a thud or a splat? Come on, I’ll keep it open for you.”