Families calling for an inquiry into the Solar Centre abuse scandal have accused the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of “incompetence” and “adding insult to injury” by misleading them about the trial outcomes of offences against their disabled relatives.
The families of five service-users from the Doncaster day centre – who all have learning difficulties and high support needs – were already calling for an inquiry into the multiple failures of the criminal justice system, which meant that it took six years for the case to reach trial.
They believe that the repeated failures of police and CPS are symptomatic of the criminal justice system’s continuing failure to take seriously both disability hate crime and the abuse of people with learning difficulties in institutional care.
The successful prosecution of two former Solar Centre nursing assistants earlier this month only came about after Disability News Service brought the scandal to the attention of the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, following two failed investigations by South Yorkshire police and CPS.
Susan Murphy, 44, and another former nursing assistant, James Hinds, aged 59, were found guilty of ill-treatment by a jury at Sheffield Crown Court earlier this month. Hinds was found guilty on 10 of 19 charges, Murphy on 15 of 20 charges. They will be sentenced on 14 June.
Two other former Solar Centre members of staff, Julie Burge and Michael Barnard, were acquitted of all charges against them.
Now two of the families of survivors of the Solar Centre abuse say they are furious with the CPS after it gave them inaccurate information about the outcome of the trial.
The families of Maxine Hughes and Richie Rowe both believed the jury had cleared the defendants of all charges concerning their relatives.
But after receiving fresh information from a journalist on a national newspaper, Adrian Milnes, Richie Rowe’s step-father, was able to confirm with CPS that Hinds had been found guilty of abusing Richie.
A member of CPS staff told him three times that one charge of ill-treatment of Richie Rowe by Hinds had resulted in a guilty verdict.
Two hours later, the same staff member phoned back and apologised, and told Milnes the CPS computer system had not been able to cope with the complexity of the case and the number of charges, and that Hinds had been found not guilty of all the offences relating to Richie.
Milnes said: “Don’t they think we have been through enough without them making any more stupid mistakes?
“To be given the vindication and then to have it snatched away is horrible. It is adding insult onto injury.”
He pointed out that members of CPS staff had also given conflicting information during the trial about other important aspects of the case, which cannot yet be revealed for legal reasons.
Milnes said: “The mistakes are just astounding. It reinforces my initial statement that they obviously thought it was too hard, too difficult to prove, so they would do the absolute minimum.
“Not only are they doing the absolute minimum, they are also casual in their approach. The mistakes are occurring on a daily basis, just as the abuse was occurring on a daily basis.”
Wendy Magill, whose sister Maxine was also abused by Hinds at the Solar Centre, was left in a similar situation to Milnes after being passed information – approved by CPS – which stated that Hinds had been found guilty on a charge of ill-treating Maxine.
She later learned that CPS had made a mistake, and that Hinds had been cleared of that charge.
Magill said: “CPS have been absolutely useless in their dealings with this case. They are just incompetent.
“For an organisation like the CPS to get something like that wrong is gross negligence and incompetence. It shows how seriously they have treated this case.”
CPS has so far been unable to confirm why the incorrect information was passed to the family and to journalists.
30 May 2013