Council ‘ignored three warnings’ over former Mencap advisor


newslatestA local authority appears to have ignored three warnings that a former Mencap advisor – who has previously been arrested over two unconnected rape allegations – is being allowed to spend time with disabled service-users with high support needs.

Brian McGinnis has been arrested twice, one in connection with allegations that he raped AX, a child with learning difficulties who used the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.

McGinnis, who became a special advisor to Mencap after leaving a senior position in the civil service, has never been convicted of any offence, or even charged.

But Disability News Service (DNS) has learned that Mr and Mrs X – AX’s parents – have told Bromley council three times in the last three years that McGinnis appears to be continuing to secure access to people with learning difficulties and high support needs.

One of these disabled people was mentioned several times in a confidential report prepared for the council’s director of social services in 1997.

That report discussed McGinnis’s close attachment to the woman, who was a child at the time but is now in her 30s and has “a very high level of disability… does not verbally communicate her wishes and feelings”, and is “totally dependent on others for physical care”.

The report described how staff felt that McGinnis “was too familiar with her – often sitting her on his lap and other actions, which seemed inappropriate for a man of his age with a young girl”, and how he was “too willing to pick [her]up and touch her”.

Mrs X told DNS that they had twice seen McGinnis with the woman, at a restaurant and at a garden centre, on both occasions accompanied by a care worker. Her husband also saw McGinnis with another person with learning difficulties at a local hospital.

Mrs X said: “I was shaking when I saw him at the restaurant. I wanted to tear his eyes out.

“His steely cold eyes looked at me and he said, ‘How are you?’ I couldn’t believe it; the man who raped my daughter.”

Mr X added: “How on earth can a man like this still have access to people with learning disabilities? How much more information does Bromley council need to stop this happening?”

The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now 76 and lives in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.

Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.

He retired from his position as a special advisor with Mencap in 2003, and the learning difficulties charity previously claimed that this was unconnected with any of the rape allegations.

But this week, DNS learned that a leading crossbench peer visited Mencap chief executive Jo Williams – now no longer with the organisation – to warn her about some of the allegations concerning McGinnis, after the peer had been approached by the chair and chief executive of the charity Voice UK.

McGinnis is believed to have retired from Mencap shortly after that meeting in 2003, but the charity has always insisted that his retirement was unconnected with any rape allegations.

A Mencap spokeswoman said: “We take all allegations of abuse and our reporting responsibilities extremely seriously.

“Mr McGinnis retired in 2003 and there is nothing in our records which indicates that these allegations were known about at that time by Mencap.

“We have zero tolerance in respect to abuse and ensure that all allegations are referred to the proper authorities.”

But Mencap refused to tell DNS whether it has asked Williams about the meeting with the peer.

Following McGinnis’s first arrest in 2001, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.

Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.

A Bromley council spokeswoman told DNS this week: “We cannot comment on individual situations.

“However, if anyone has specific concerns about a vulnerable adult in Bromley  borough, we would always urge them to contact our adult safeguarding team.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DH) has confirmed that it is investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher laws on the sexual abuse of people with learning difficulties in the 1980s.

DNS asked DH last month to look into concerns that McGinnis played a key role in dismissing calls in the mid-1980s for a review of the law on sexuality and people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

The year before McGinnis left his senior position at the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.

But DHSS dismissed the idea, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.

The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.

This week, a DH spokeswoman told DNS: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”

If it emerged that McGinnis did play a role in blocking tougher legislation, DH could find itself sucked into the scandal that has surrounded the Home Office over the whereabouts of the child abuse dossier handed by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens to home secretary Leon Brittan in the early 1980s.

The DH spokeswoman added: “The Home Office is in the process of appointing a new chair for its wider inquiry.

“When the chair is appointed, the terms of reference for that inquiry will be decided and the department will co-operate fully with it.”

McGinnis was also named in June in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in DHSS in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.

McGinnis refused to speak to DNS today (Thursday), but he has always claimed that he is innocent of both rape allegations and that he is a lifelong “celibate”.

14 August 2014