The service-users at the Solar Centre, in the grounds of St Catherine’s Hospital in Doncaster, all had learning difficulties, physical impairments, high support needs, and little or no verbal communication skills, and most of them were wheelchair-users.
Sheffield Crown Court heard they suffered more than two years of abuse, between January 2005 and March 2007, from a group of three nursing assistants and a physiotherapist who intimidated other staff into silence.
The alleged abuse was finally halted in March 2007 when a member of staff reported her concerns to managers of Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), which runs the day centre.
The court heard details of 52 allegations against ex-miner Jim Hinds, 59; Susan Murphy, 44, who was in a relationship with Hinds; Julie Burge, 49; and physiotherapist Michael Barnard, 50.
Hinds denies 22 charges of ill-treatment, while Murphy denies 19 charges of ill-treatment and one of neglect, Burge denies three charges of ill-treatment, and Barnard denies seven charges of ill-treatment, all under the Mental Health Act.
Sarah Wright, prosecuting, opened the case by briefly describing the 52 charges, which concern 17 service-users.
She told the court how Hinds had grabbed service-user Robert Kirsopp – who has Down’s syndrome, autism and dementia – around the neck and forced him to the floor to clean up a drink he had spilled.
Wright said Hinds was also seen hitting Graham Chapman, a blind service-user, across the face, and throwing him roughly into his wheelchair.
Murphy was seen pushing Kirsopp to the floor with such force that he crashed into a cabinet, “regularly used abusive language about him”, and on one occasion repeatedly punched him about the head.
She smacked another service-user – who was blind and deaf – in the face because she was “making a noise”, the court heard.
Wright also described how, around Christmas 2006, Hines and Barnard had used service-user Michael Kime for “target practice” by throwing cushions at him.
Another service-user, Richie Rowe, was “tormented” by Hines by wedging his wheelchair so that he was facing the wall and could not move.
On another occasion, Hines and Barnard kicked Rowe in his wheelchair backwards and forwards across the room.
Wright said that Hines and Murphy – on separate occasions – had locked Marilyn Britton in a cupboard in the centre’s art room, with Hines placing Kirsopp in front of the door in his wheelchair to stop her getting out.
Murphy, Hines and Burge were all seen slapping service-user Linda Allen across the face to wake her up, Wright told the jury.
One of the service-users, Maxine Hughes, had scars caused by suffering severe burns as a child, Wright told the court, and added: “Jim Hines and Susan Murphy would hit Maxine. Jim Hines used to laugh and say the marks could not be seen because of the scarring to her face.”
Wright said the four defendants – particularly Hinds and Murphy – had intimidated other staff members into silence.
She said: “The group showed a harsh attitude towards other members of staff and especially to the service-users they were supposed to care for.
“Jim Hinds was seen particularly as a very domineering character who came across as a bully. Both he and Susan Murphy frequently used derogatory terms in referring to the service-users.
“The combined effect of that behaviour meant for a long time that other staff, although upset by the behaviour, felt unable to speak out in a climate of intimidation that prevailed.”
Deborah Griffin, the first of the defendants’ former Solar Centre colleagues to give evidence against them, told the jury of a number of incidents she had witnessed.
Griffin described how Hines had repeatedly stabbed Kirsopp with a sewing needle on his arm and hand because he wouldn’t sit down, and had smacked Peter Hopkinson, who has dementia, across the face because he was “unsettled, screaming and shouting”.
She told the court how Hines had bragged how – because one of the female service-users was being “uncooperative” – he had put her over his shoulder and thrown her into the ball pool.
Griffin said: “That particular day there were no balls in the ball pool so she went down with quite a thud. She landed straight on the floor. He thought it was quite amusing.”
On another occasion, a female service-user was ripping up magazines in the art room, something the staff knew she enjoyed.
When she refused to stop ripping up the magazines, Murphy hit her on the back of the head.
Griffin said she didn’t tell managers about what she had witnessed because she was “too scared”, and because managers at the Solar Centre were “very poor”.
Iain Hillis, defending Hinds, suggested Griffin had been negligent if she had witnessed such abuse and failed to report it.
Under his questioning, she admitted that the four defendants had been suspended the moment hospital managers were alerted to the abuse allegations.
Hillis told her: “So any belief you had that management would not take complaints seriously was completely ill-unfounded.”
He also asked Griffin why there had been no sign of blood on Robert Kirsopp after Hines had repeatedly stabbed him with a needle.
Griffin denied the suggestion of Karen Tunnacliffe, defending Susan Murphy, that the reason she had made allegations against the four was because they were “always getting the plum jobs”, such as taking some service-users on hiking trips, which left those with higher support needs in the day centre for other staff to look after.
The trial continues and is expected to last about five weeks.
18 April 2013