Solar Centre scandal: Abuser was able to work for care agency


theweeksubA nursing assistant accused of abusing disabled people at a day centre was able to work for a care agency for nearly a year, even though she should have been barred from all care work with adults.

Susan Murphy was found guilty on Friday (17 May) of 15 charges of ill-treating adults with learning difficulties, at the Solar Centre day centre in Doncaster.

The failure to keep Murphy away from care and nursing work is the latest in a series of systemic flaws and critical errors by public bodies that have been uncovered by Disability News Service (DNS) since the Solar Centre allegations first appeared in the media in 2010.

DNS has now joined five families of former Solar Centre service-users in calling for an independent inquiry into the failures by South Yorkshire police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the trust that ran the day centre, and other agencies.

Murphy, aged 44, was one of four members of Solar Centre staff suspended after a whistleblower raised concerns to managers in 2007.

An internal report into the allegations, compiled by Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), suggested that 18 people with learning difficulties, high support needs and physical and sensory impairments had been abused.

But because of police and CPS failures, it took six years – and two unsuccessful investigations – for the case to reach court.

The trial of the four defendants heard how Murphy slapped and hit service-users and locked one woman in a cupboard.

But for nearly a year, from 2009 to 2010, she had been able to find work with A1 Medical and General, a care agency which provides “nurses, carers and support workers to the NHS, prisons, private hospitals, care homes, and supported living services”, and is based less than a mile from the Solar Centre.

A spokeswoman for the agency told DNS: “All I can tell you is she worked for us for just under a year and during that period of time we didn’t have any issues or complaints. She always worked under supervision and she left us in 2010.”

When asked what kind of work Murphy would have carried out, she said: “It would be in nursing homes, hospitals or any other establishment.”

She insisted that the agency had carried out what was then known as a Criminal Records Bureau check – now carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – but she said she could not reveal the result.

Asked how she felt about Murphy’s guilty verdict, she said: “Horrendous,” but would not comment further.

A DBS spokesman said: “The DBS is unable to comment on individual cases.  This includes confirming whether or not we have received a referral.”

On Friday, Murphy and another former nursing assistant, James Hinds, aged 59, were found guilty of ill-treatment by a jury at Sheffield Crown Court. Hines was found guilty on 10 of 19 charges, Murphy on 15 of 20. 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.

Meanwhile, RDaSH has yet to deny suggestions that Burge continued to be employed by the trust for a period between 2007 and 2013.

In 2010, RDaSH told DNS that two of the four – believed to be Murphy and Hinds – had been referred to what was then known as the Protection of Vulnerable Adults scheme, a list of those unsuitable to work with older and disabled adults.

The trust said in 2010 that this “should ensure that they are not employed in the future in any other registered service caring for vulnerable adults”, but did not say when Murphy had been referred to the list.

It also revealed that a third member of staff – believed to be Burge – “did not return to work at the Solar Centre or in any of the trust’s community learning disability services”, while a fourth member of staff – believed to be Barnard – was employed by a different trust.

This week, RDaSH released a brief statement apologising again “for the actions of the individuals that have been found guilty”, and claiming that it had “implemented improvements to the learning disability service at this centre to minimise the risks of such incidents happening again”.

But it declined to answer any questions about the case, because of “a number of ongoing civil claims”.

23 May 2013