The public bodies responsible for a series of serious failures and a six-year delay in securing justice for disabled people abused at a Doncaster day centre, have refused to order an independent review into the scandal.
The successful prosecution of two former Solar Centre nursing assistants for ill-treatment only came about after Disability News Service (DNS) brought the scandal to the attention of the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, following two failed investigations by South Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Following the trial, which ended in May, families of those abused at the Solar Centre had assumed that Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board (DSAPB) – which includes representatives from Doncaster council, South Yorkshire police, local health trusts and other agencies – would order a serious case review (SCR).
They hoped this review would be as wide-ranging and hard-hitting as the SCR into the Winterbourne View private hospital – which again involved appalling ill-treatment of people with learning difficulties in a health setting – which was published last August.
Among the questions they and DNS wanted answered were how at least one of the former nursing assistants was able to continue working in the care sector after she was suspended over the abuse allegations, and why it took six years and two failed police prosecutions to secure convictions.
They also wanted to know why an internal report compiled by RDaSH (Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the day centre) into the alleged abuse appeared to have been watered-down before being handed to the families of the service-users in 2008.
And they have asked why earlier warnings by members of staff to RDaSH appear to have been ignored.
Roger Thompson, chair of DSAPB’s board, told DNS this week that a serious case review was “not needed”. He has so far refused to comment further or explain that decision.
His statement came in the week that the government announced that Doncaster council would become the first local authority to have control of its children’s services taken away and handed to an independent trust.
Adrian Milnes, whose step-son Richie was abused at the Solar Centre and who attended much of the trial, said: “It doesn’t surprise me, it saddens me. We have had this for six years and there is still an extreme reluctance to be transparent and accountable.”
He said it was even more necessary for there to be an SCR for the Solar Centre than at Winterbourne View, because of the length of time it took to secure convictions.
He said: “Nothing really has changed. They say they have learned lessons but what has happened has proved they have not.
“They are still conducting a policy of ‘we will not tell them anything unless we absolutely must,’ rather than a policy of, ‘we will tell people everything to establish confidence and trust.’”
And he suggested the failure to hold an SCR meant that public bodies in Doncaster had something to hide.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on individual cases.”
But she added: “Serious case reviews are commissioned locally by safeguarding boards to establish whether there are lessons to be learnt about the way in which staff and agencies work together to safeguard vulnerable people.”
Susan Murphy, aged 44, and James Hinds, aged 59, were found guilty in May of a total of 25 charges of ill-treating people with learning difficulties, physical impairments and high support needs at the Solar Centre.
The service-users had suffered more than two years of abuse from Hinds and Murphy, who intimidated other staff into silence.
The men and women were slapped and hit, while Hinds dragged one man across the floor and stabbed another of the male service-users repeatedly with a needle on the arm and hand because he wouldn’t sit down, while Murphy locked a female service-user in a cupboard.
The jury had also heard that one of the service-users had scars caused by suffering severe burns as a child, and how Hinds and Murphy would hit her, and then Hinds “would laugh and say the marks could not be seen because of the scarring to her face”.
The abuse was finally halted in March 2007 when a member of staff reported her concerns to RDaSH.
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat MP and former care services minister, who raised concerns about the case with civil servants in 2011 after it was brought to his attention by DNS, backed calls for an SCR last month.
But the Labour MP Rosie Winterton, whose Doncaster Central constituency includes the Solar Centre, again refused to comment on the case this week.
DNS has now asked Winterton on at least four occasions over the last 30 months to speak out and put her weight behind efforts to secure justice for the survivors of the abuse, and to find answers to the many questions raised about the conduct of the public bodies involved in the scandal.
She has yet to explain why she will not comment on the case.
18 July 2013