Three local care workers have been found guilty of neglecting and ill-treating elderly residents at Hillcroft's nursing home in Slyne-with-Hest.
Carol Moore, 54, Katie Cairns, 27, and Gemma Pearson, 28, were all convicted of being a carer involved in the ill treatment and wilful neglect of a person with lack of capacity contrary to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 at Preston Crown Court today (Tuesday 26 November 2013).
Cairns of Riverview Court, Morecambe was found guilty of three offences, Pearson of Hill Street, Carnforth and Moore of Ripon Avenue, Lancaster were both convicted of one offence. Moore, who was initially charged with three offences, was found not guilty of the two other offences.
Earlier this year, a fourth person, Darren Smith, 35, of Howgill Avenue, Lancaster pleaded guilty to eight offences of being a carer involved in the ill treatment and wilful neglect of a person with lack of capacity contrary to the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
All four will be sentenced on Friday 10th January at Preston Crown Court.
In May 2012, Lancashire County Council Adult Services Social Care department made police aware of a complaint they had received about the level of care provided to some residents at the Hillcroft nursing home in Slyne-with-Hest.
A multi-agency investigation into the alleged mistreatment of residents at the home immediately began and following a complex enquiry Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson, who were all employed as carers, were charged with the offences under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The charges related to the mistreatment of seven men and one woman between May 2010 and September 2011. All the victims had been diagnosed as suffering from dementia. The group were found to have abused residents in their care in a number of ways: they mocked them, bullied them and on occasions deliberately assaulted them. Most of the neglect and ill treatment related to instances of throwing bean bags and balls deliberately at the residents.
Detective Inspector Andy Hulme said: “I am pleased with the verdicts today. These victims represent some of the most vulnerable members of our community who have been subjected to ill treatment at the hands of people who were entrusted to care for them and improve their quality of life. Instead Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson showed a total disregard for their wellbeing, displaying contemptible behaviour that should never be tolerated. I would like to take this opportunity to commend those members of staff who had the courage and decency to speak out against this despicable behaviour. If it wasn’t for their brave actions we may not be where we are today.
“I would also like to praise the families of the victims who trusted these people to care for their relatives and treat them with dignity and respect. To learn that they failed in their professional duty to this must have been utterly heart-breaking, yet they have conducted themselves with dignity throughout the investigation and subsequent trial.
“From the outset, the main aim of this investigation was to establish if any abuse had taken place and if it had, to put an immediate stop to it. I am pleased to say we have been able to do that.
“The safety and wellbeing of all residents being cared for by the Hillcroft Group was always a priority. We have been working with other agencies to ensure all appropriate safeguards are in place and work continues in this area by Lancashire County Council and NHS North Lancashire. A multi-agency learning review is continuing to ensure that any lessons learnt will be fully explored and actioned where appropriate. The review, which has been running parallel to the investigation and judicial proceedings, aims to ensure better protection for vulnerable adults in residential care.
“We don’t believe that the behaviour shown by Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson is a true reflection of the majority of staff at Hillcroft and we believe the care home in Slyne is now a completely different environment, with the quality of care afforded to all residents being carefully managed and monitored.
“Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson will now have time to reflect on their actions and I hope they can see just how appalling their behaviour was.”
Joanne Cunliffe, Crown Advocate for CPS North West Complex Casework Unit, said: “The vulnerable victims in this case were subjected to appalling ill treatment at the hands of the very people who were entrusted with their care.
“They deserved, and should have had, the very best of treatment, but instead of looking after them, Darren Smith, Carol Moore, Katie Cairns and Gemma Pearson mocked, bullied and humiliated them for their own entertainment. Their actions caused considerable distress to the victims, and it has been very distressing for their families to hear about it.
“The CPS has been determined to bring the defendants to justice for the abuse they inflicted on their victims and we have worked closely with the police to piece together all the evidence in this case. We are committed to prosecuting crimes against older people, and where there is evidence of ill treatment or neglect we will prosecute robustly.
“I would like to thank the witnesses who showed great bravery in coming forward and supporting the prosecution. Their assistance has been invaluable in building a strong case against these defendants and as a result, we have been able to secure their convictions.
“I hope the fact that these defendants have now been brought to justice is of some comfort to the victims and their families.”
The families of the victims gave the following statement:
“It is impossible to imagine what it’s like to have dementia and as relatives we do our best to speak for the victims of these crimes, who are unable to speak for themselves.
“As the disease progresses, we see our relative change and we do our best to care for them, but we have not been trained how to handle difficult situations.
“There often comes a time when the family of the person with dementia has to put its trust in professionals to care for their relative and these professionals have a duty to treat the people they look after with dignity and respect. Smith, Moore, Cairns & Pearson have failed in this duty and we hope that sentencing will reflect that these crimes were committed against vulnerable people who could not stand up for themselves.
“There are also duties of care on the owners and management of Hillcroft, Lancashire County Council Adult Services, NHS North Lancashire and the CQC. We feel that there have been failings on the parts of all of these.
“The section of the home at the centre of this case is a challenging behaviour unit and the description speaks for itself. To work in a challenging behaviour unit must be incredibly difficult, requiring patience and understanding, not to mention training and professionalism, but the difficulty of the job does not excuse mistreatment on any level.
“Mistreatment is unlikely to occur in front of relatives or during an inspection by the CQC and not all forms of abuse leave visible scars.
“We believe that families, in particular those with relatives in challenging behaviour units, should be able to contribute to the periodic review of standards in that care home.
“In many cases, people with advanced dementia are not able to communicate and this means that we as relatives might not know if something untoward has occurred to them. It is not always easy for relatives to raise concerns, for fear of becoming a trouble-maker and something must be done to change this situation.
“It is important that so called "whistle-blowers” are listened to and we thank and admire the courage of those who came forward to report the mistreatment at Hillcroft.
“We would also like to publicly thank the Prosecution Counsel, CPS and Lancashire Police for carrying out a professional investigation and for their support over the last 18 months.”