Solar Centre: MP faces questions over silence on scandal


theweeksubA Labour MP is facing criticism after refusing to comment publicly on a major scandal involving the abuse of disabled adults in her own constituency.

Two former nursing assistants were found guilty last month of 25 charges of ill-treatment of people with learning difficulties and high support needs at an NHS day centre.

The prosecution 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.

But Rosie Winterton MP, whose Doncaster Central constituency includes the Solar Centre day centre – where the abuse took place – has repeatedly refused to comment on the case.

DNS has now asked Winterton on at least three occasions over the last 30 months to speak out and put her weight behind efforts to secure justice for the survivors of the abuse, and attempts to find answers to the many questions raised about the conduct of the criminal justice system and other public bodies.

DNS has joined with five families of survivors of the abusive regime at the Solar Centre to call for a small-scale inquiry into the failures of the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and other agencies, including Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), which runs the Solar Centre.

One of the families, who are constituents of Winterton, this week expressed disappointment that she had failed to speak out about the scandal.

Adrian Milnes said that he and his wife Kathy had had helpful private meetings with the MP about the case, and that she had written letters on their behalf, but had failed to speak out publicly.

He said: “Privately she has spoken to us and she has done things for us. But she appears very reluctant to commit publicly to this.

“It takes people in positions like Rosie’s to speak out publicly, to get things done. [If they don’t] it makes it infinitely harder for people like Kathy and I to get people to understand what is going on.

“I cannot understand why there is a reluctance to do that. I do think what happened at the Solar Centre is a very public matter and deserves somebody elected by the people of Doncaster to speak out about it.

“Rosie being a public figure, I would have liked her to say something publicly about it.”

A spokesman for Winterton said: “Rosie doesn’t want to comment on the issue.”

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow, who raised concerns about the case with Department of Health civil servants in 2011, when he was care services minister – after it was drawn to his attention by DNS – has become the first public figure to suggest that an inquiry could eventually be necessary.

He backed calls for a multi-agency serious case review into the scandal, but suggested that an inquiry might be necessary after any review completed its work.

Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board’s serious case panel will decide on 4 July if there is to be a serious case review.

Burstow said: “The serious case review ought to be talking to all the different agencies and taking a complete picture.”

But he said the review could “trigger” a wider inquiry if its report raised “systemic” issues and questions it was unable to answer.

He said: “That could become a trigger for there to be a need for a more comprehensive inquiry.”

Burstow is pushing the coalition to introduce a new criminal offence of corporate neglect for cases like Winterbourne View, the private hospital near Bristol where people with learning difficulties were abused.

He said such an offence could prove vital in preventing future scandals like the Solar Centre, by forcing directors of companies and NHS trusts to take a more active role in ensuring care standards were high.

Burstow said: “It is another way of sending a shock through the system, to get people to really focus on that as part of their board level responsibilities.”

He said he suspected that – just as with the Winterbourne View case – there were senior people within RDaSH who should have been held to account.

He said: “It should be changing the behaviour of boards so individual directors see they have a collective and individual responsibility to really understand the service they are in, being out on the shop-floor, looking at the services, talking to the staff, talking to the families, and really living the experience people are having in those services.”

6 June 2013