The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is to investigate why it refused to prosecute any of the NHS staff accused of abusing 18 disabled people at a day centre.
The decision not to bring any charges over the alleged abuse at the Solar Centre in Doncaster was made just three days after the head of the CPS, and a leading chief constable, spoke publicly of their determination to correct their organisations’ past failures in dealing with disability hate crime.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, and Stephen Otter, the equality and diversity lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers, spoke out last week at the launch of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) major report into disability-related harassment.
The report accused public bodies of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise such harassment.
The latest decision by the CPS in south Yorkshire follows a three-year battle for justice by families of former users of the day centre.
An internal NHS investigation, which reported in 2008, found evidence of 44 incidents between 2005 and 2007, involving abuse of 18 people with learning difficulties and high support needs.
The report by the trust which runs the day centre, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH) – which was leaked to the media last year – provides few details of the incidents, although it makes it clear that nine different members of staff claimed they had witnessed abuse.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has seen safeguarding reports into the abuse of two of the 18 service-users, which detail clear evidence against at least three former staff members.
These two reports raise serious questions over why the police and CPS have twice failed to bring any prosecutions against the three members of staff, referred to as “A”, “B” and “C”.
In 2007, South Yorkshire Police investigated allegations of physical assault, but the CPS said there was “insufficient evidence” to bring charges.
Last year, after the RDaSH report was leaked, the force reopened its investigation. This time it investigated possible allegations of ill-treatment under the Mental Health Act, after DNS questioned why such charges were not considered in 2007.
But last week, the force said it had been told by the CPS that there was still “insufficient evidence to proceed” with any charges.
Now, after DNS questioned why no charges were possible when RDaSH appears to have taken at least nine witness statements describing ill-treatment, the CPS has agreed to re-examine its decision.
Martin Goldman, the chief crown prosecutor for Yorkshire and Humberside, has told DNS that his deputy will “look into the issues”.
A CPS spokeswoman said that Naheed Hussain, who is responsible for the South Yorkshire area, would examine whether the statements detailed in the RDaSH report were passed to the CPS by the police.
Some relatives of former users of the Solar Centre are now considering seeking a judicial review of the decision not to bring any charges.
And at least three of the families are likely to lodge complaints with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Adrian Milnes, step-father of Richie Rowe, one of the disabled men allegedly abused at the day centre, said: “The trust, the Care Quality Commission [the care watchdog], the police and the CPS have all behaved absolutely atrociously.”
He accused the authorities of “trampling over the human rights” of Richie and other former users of the Solar Centre.
Valerie Kirsopp, mother of Robert Kirsopp, another of the men allegedly abused, said she was “absolutely devastated” by the latest CPS decision.
She said: “The abuse was so blatant and continued for three long years. To think what he went through on a daily basis. I just think Robbie has been really let down.”
The uncle of another former service-user said he had “no faith” in the police and “wasn’t surprised” by the latest decision.
He said: “I feel let down that someone hasn’t done their job, whether it is the police or the CPS.”
Meanwhile, South Yorkshire Police has refused to answer crucial questions about its latest “investigation”, including whether it made any efforts to interview service-users themselves.
It is also unclear what action the force took over the RDaSH statements described in the two safeguarding reports.
A police spokeswoman said the force was “unable to provide any further details of the actual investigation, any evidence/allegations brought forwards and any witness statements taken”.
This week, a spokeswoman for Keir Starmer also refused to comment on the case, despite his pledge at the EHRC launch.
Below, DNS can summarise some of the allegations detailed in the two safeguarding reports.
The report on the abuse allegedly experienced by Richie Rowe describes how:
• Witness H reported seeing A “turn Richie Rowe…in his wheelchair to face the wall using pillows to stop him moving” for up to 15 minutes
• Witness Q saw A and C “kick Richie’s wheelchair whilst he was sat in it from one side of the room to the other causing Richie to crash into patients and the walls”
• Witness Q saw A and C “lift Richie out of his chair and throw him onto the floor”
• Witness E saw A and C each grab one of Richie’s arms and legs and “throw him onto trampoline and say ‘oh look he’s hit his head’”
A report on the abuse allegedly experienced by Robert Kirsopp describes how:
• Witness E saw A “grabbing and forcing Robert to the floor to clean up a spilt drink”
• Witness J saw A “pushing Robert around the room and pricking him with a needle”
• Witness E saw A “pinning Robert against the wall” and hitting his head
• Witness G saw B “push Robert to the floor to clean up a spilt drink” and smack his face
• Witness F saw B “punch Robert in the head”