Solar Centre abuse scandal: New claims of abuse


The health trust at the centre of an alleged abuse scandal at a day centre faced similar allegations at a nearby facility for disabled people just two years earlier.

Disability News Service has been collecting mounting evidence of the serious nature of the allegations against former staff of Doncaster’s Solar Centre, a day centre for people with learning difficulties and high support needs.

Allegations include one disabled person being deliberately pricked with needles, pinned to a wall and hit around the head, punched and threatened.

Another was allegedly thrown onto the floor from his wheelchair, and had his wheelchair kicked “from one side of the room to the other” while he was sat in it.

No-one has yet been charged over the allegations.

The alleged abuse took place between 2005 and 2007 at the centre in the grounds of St Catherine’s Hospital, which provides mental health and learning difficulties services and is run by Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH).

But Patrick Cawkwell, a former nursing assistant who worked at St Catherine’s for most of 2003, has now told Disability News Service how he raised serious allegations of abuse by staff at another facility for people with learning difficulties in the grounds of St Catherine’s.

Many of his claims are similar to those alleged to have taken place at the nearby Solar Centre less than two years later.

Cawkwell’s allegations included a resident with learning difficulties being locked in a cupboard, another being sexually assaulted, as well as a string of other claims of ill-treatment, neglect, bullying and racism.

At least one of the disabled people who was later allegedly abused at the Solar Centre was also ill-treated at the facility where Cawkwell worked, he claims.

Cawkwell quit his job in December 2003 because of what he witnessed, but not before making a detailed statement to an RDaSH manager.

He said the trust failed to pass his allegations to the police. And he said he contacted South Yorkshire police when he first heard about the alleged abuse at the Solar Centre in late 2007 or early 2008, but was told his evidence was “not required and they had everything they needed”.

Deborah Smith, RDaSH’s deputy director of specialist services, said a “number of staff” were suspended while Cawkwell’s claims were “fully investigated”, but the claims were “not proven, therefore disciplinary action was not appropriate”.

She added: “The trust is confident that all relevant internal processes were completed and the required actions undertaken in 2004. There was no requirement at the time to notify any external agencies of the investigation.”

When asked why the allegations were not passed to the police and whether the new allegations were suggestive of a wider culture of institutional abuse at St Catherine’s, an RDaSH spokeswoman declined to comment further.

15 September 2010

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