Legal threats force Doncaster agencies into serious case review


theweeksubA board that aims to protect disabled adults at risk of harm has been forced by legal threats to hold an independent review into the abuse that took place at a Doncaster day centre.

Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board (DSAPB) – which includes representatives from Doncaster council, South Yorkshire police, local health trusts and other agencies – had previously brushed off demands for a serious case review (SCR) into the abuse that took place at the Solar Centre.

But days after lawyers acting for one of the service-users wrote to Doncaster council and threatened a judicial review of this decision, the board backed down.

Roger Thompson, DSAPB’s chair, said this week that he and his colleagues had decided they needed to “bring together in one place the lessons learned from the Solar Centre matter and believe that [an SCR]would provide the best vehicle to do that”.

He added: “We know that families, carers and those immediately affected by what happened at the centre want to know what happened and how agencies could and have improved their professional practice since then.”

Thompson said the families of those abused would have “an opportunity to share their experiences and views further with us and we welcome their involvement”.

The families have previously spoken of how they believe some of the public bodies represented on the board were responsible for a series of failings connected with the Solar Centre scandal, and the delay of six years in securing justice for their relatives.

Adrian Milnes, whose step-son Richie was abused at the Solar Centre and whose lawyer had threatened to seek a judicial review, said he was “very pleased and equally very cynical” about the decision to hold the SCR, because of his and other families’ lengthy battle to win justice.

Milnes said the original decision not to hold an SCR had been “both legally and morally wrong”.

He said the board had “not even had the backbone to say they got it wrong or admit the real reason they are having a serious case review”, which he said was the letter from his family’s solicitor.

He said he wanted the SCR to produce a “full and frank explanation of all the mistakes that all the agencies have made”.

The successful prosecution earlier this year 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.

Among the questions the families and DNS want answered are 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 want 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 abuse appeared to have been watered-down before it was handed to the families in 2008.

And they have asked why it appears that warnings by Solar Centre staff members to RDaSH were ignored. The abuse was finally halted in March 2007 after another member of staff reported her concerns to the trust.

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 serious case review is likely to be published early next summer.

26 September 2013