Solar Centre scandal: Safeguarding boss refuses to resign over abuse review


newslatestThe independent expert responsible for overseeing the safety of vulnerable adults in Doncaster has defended a review he commissioned into a major abuse scandal, even though it failed to examine key mistakes by health and criminal justice agencies.

The serious case review into the abuse that took place at the Solar Centre day centre has been criticised for ignoring key concerns.

But Roger Thompson, a former director of children for the NSPCC and director of social services, and now chair of Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board (DSAPB), refused today to resign over major failings in the serious case review (SCR) he commissioned into the Solar Centre scandal.

During a four-year investigation, Disability News Service (DNS) has highlighted serious failings by South Yorkshire police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), which runs the Solar Centre, on the edge of Doncaster.

All of these news stories were emailed to the author of the serious case review by DNS, but Gill Poole’s report included almost no criticism of the authorities when it was published last month.

In an interview today (Thursday) with DNS, Thompson defended the failure of the review to examine these key failings by local agencies, and insisted that he did not know that Poole had been sent details of these concerns by DNS.

He claimed that failings that allowed Susan Murphy, a nursing assistant later jailed for abuse, to work for a year for a care agency when she had been suspended from the Solar Centre over the allegations, were “totally outside the remit” of the SCR.

When DNS told Thompson that these failings have exposed a major loophole in social care law, which means that such agencies are essentially unregulated, he said: “If you want to take that up with the Care Quality Commission that is for you to do so.

“It was not included in the remit of the serious case review.”

When asked why an examination of how Murphy could have been allowed to work for the care agency – which provided staff for care homes and hospitals – was not included in the SCR, he said: “It just wasn’t, was it. It was outside the remit.”

He added: “We are looking at events that took place at agencies in Doncaster.”

When it was pointed out that the care agency was based in Doncaster, he said: “I don’t know it, I’m afraid.”

He also said he was not worried that the SCR failed to mention allegations that RDaSH ignored whistleblowers who tried to raise concerns about poor standards at the Solar Centre months before the abusive regime was finally exposed.

And Thompson said he was not concerned that Poole claimed to have talked about the possibility of such whistleblowers with RDaSH, even though the NHS trust insists that no such discussions took place.

He said: “There is nothing I can say about this. It was just a conversation Gill believes she had with RDaSH… It is not crucial to the serious case review. We know that abuse took place at the Solar Centre.”

He said the SCR was about “lessons to be learned”, and was not an opportunity to reinvestigate what happened at the day centre.

Thompson insisted that asking how and why the trust may have ignored whistleblowers was not a “lesson to be learned”, and he claimed that because RDaSH had now introduced a whistleblowing policy there was no need for the SCR to look at any evidence of earlier whistleblowing failures.

Thompson also denied ever telling DNS last year that there was no need to hold an SCR.

He said: “I have never said there is no need for a serious case review, so I think you need to look very carefully at what was said. I would never say there was no need for a serious case review.”

DNS later unearthed a quote emailed by Doncaster council in Thompson’s name in the summer of 2013, which said: “A serious case review is not needed but we have ensured, and will continue to ensure that we learn from issues raised in the Solar centre case.”

Two months later, and 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 and announced an SCR.

Thompson has yet to explain this discrepancy, or apologise for the error, but he said: “We changed our mind and felt it was important to have one.”

He said he did not believe he should resign over the alleged failings in the SCR, and insisted there was no need for a second SCR, looking at the many concerns ignored by Poole’s report.

He said: “I’m content with what the serious case review did, and what it achieved.”

He said the board’s aim now was to make sure the recommendations made by the SCR were implemented.

John Pring’s expose of institutional abuse of people with learning difficulties at the Longcare residential homes, Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal, is available through the DNS website

21 August 2014