Panorama abuse scandal: Revelations ‘show little has changed’ since 1990s


The abuse of disabled people uncovered by a BBC investigation shows little has changed since the exposure of an even more horrific regime 17 years ago, say campaigners.

The undercover investigation revealed a catalogue of abuse at Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning difficulties near Bristol.

But the Panorama programme was aired in the same week as the publication of a new book which tells the full story of probably the most notorious and brutal regime of abuse of adults with learning difficulties.

Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal is the result of journalist John Pring’s 17-year investigation into the crimes that took place at the Longcare homes in south Buckinghamshire, near Slough.

It also examines the impact of the regime on those who survived the abuse, and investigates the ingrained discrimination in society that is still exposing people with learning difficulties to shocking levels of injustice, hostility and violent crime.

Pring – the editor and founder of Disability News Service – said he was appalled but not surprised by the cruelty revealed by the BBC investigation.

What particularly appalled him, he said, was that the flaws in the care system exposed by Panorama were so similar to those that emerged from the Longcare case, 17 years earlier.

Pring said: “Despite 17 years of inquiries, white papers, legislation, guidance, criminal investigations and serious case reviews, people with learning difficulties are still being exposed to such terrible cruelty and violence. It seems that so little has changed.”

As with Longcare, campaigners and commentators are blaming a callous indifference in society to the rights of people with learning difficulties; the use of large, institutional settings; poorly-trained and low-paid care workers; the failure of inspections to spot abusive cultures; different agencies failing to communicate with each other and share information; a lack of advocacy for service-users; and authorities failing to take complaints of abuse seriously and ignoring whistleblowers.

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), a leading organisation run by people with learning difficulties, said he agreed that nothing appeared to have changed in 17 years.

He said: “There must have been loads of reports that were put towards parliament that promised change, that things would improve. If the ink that was on those reports was worth anything, this would not be happening.”

Kathryn Stone, chief executive of Voice UK, a charity which supports people with learning difficulties who have been victims of crime or abuse, said the documentary was a “shocking indictment of our system for regulating care”.

In the last year, Voice UK’s helpline has taken more than 2,000 calls relating to similar abuse in care settings, day centres and people’s own homes.

She said the case had “the most terrible echoes of Longcare” and appeared to show that the system for preventing and detecting abuse was no better than it was in the 1990s.

She said: “It sickens me to see how far it has gone back.”

Voice UK is about to launch a “Listen Louder” campaign, aimed at persuading society to do more to listen to people with learning difficulties when they make allegations of abuse.

Pring’s book also raises serious concerns about the Care Quality Commission’s plans to reduce inspections of facilities like Winterbourne View and its new “risk-based” system of regulation which focuses on poorer homes while leaving others to submit their own written self-assessments.

2 June 2011