Police could face a judicial review over their refusal to reopen an investigation into allegations of serious abuse and ill-treatment of disabled people at a Yorkshire day centre.
South Yorkshire police had been reviewing the case after a report into the allegations by the hospital trust that runs the day centre – Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH) – was leaked to the press.
The force originally investigated allegations of physical assault in 2007, and failed to produce enough evidence to press any charges.
But families of the survivors of the alleged abuse were outraged this week when the force announced that it would not reopen its investigation.
Disability News Service is collecting mounting evidence of the serious nature of the allegations against former staff of the Solar Centre in Doncaster, none of which were included in the leaked RDaSH report.
The RDaSH report mentions 44 alleged incidents between 2005 and 2007, involving 18 service-users with learning difficulties and high support needs, but provides few details of the incidents.
The report says allegations were made against four members of staff, while incidents were witnessed by nine other staff members, although only two were witnessed by more than one person.
Information included in individual “safeguarding” reports into the allegations – concerning just two of the 18 alleged survivors – raises serious questions about the police’s failure to press any charges.
One safeguarding report describes how Robert Kirsopp, one of the day centre-users, was allegedly grabbed and forced to the floor, pricked with needles around his eyes, and pinned to a wall and hit around the head.
A series of other allegations detail how he was slapped, punched and threatened by staff.
Robert’s mother, Valerie, said she was “angry” and “very, very disappointed” by the police decision.
She said: “It was torture on a daily basis and it continued for a year-and-a half. I can’t believe there were [so many] witnesses and nothing is being done about it.”
Another safeguarding report, into the treatment of Richie Rowe, another day centre-user, details allegations that staff kicked Rowe’s wheelchair “from one side of the room to the other causing Richie to crash into patients and the walls”, while on another occasion he was lifted out of his wheelchair and thrown onto the floor.
The safeguarding report also describes how two staff members grabbed one of Rowe’s arms and legs each and threw him onto a trampoline.
All of the incidents in the two safeguarding reports were apparently witnessed by other members of staff.
David Greenwood, a solicitor representing a third alleged survivor, Carla Mountain, said he found it “incredible” that the police were not reopening their investigation.
He said: “This sets a bad precedent. It will leave questions in the minds of relatives as to whether the police are serious about safeguarding vulnerable people.”
He said that seeking a judicial review of the police’s failure to reopen their investigation was “certainly a possibility”.
Adrian Milnes, Richie Rowe’s step-father, said he was “devastated” for Richie that he and his family have to “endure this kind of indifference from organisations that are supposed to protect us”.
He added: “What kind of criminal act does somebody have to do before the police will actually take notice?”
Anne Novis, a leading anti-hate crime campaigner, said she believed the families should push for a judicial review.
She said: “The police are a public service and they are failing in their duty to protect disabled people.
“It just informs the belief that we cannot have any trust or confidence in our police forces to take seriously the experiences of disabled people when they are absolutely degraded through such hostile treatment.”
Detective chief inspector Matt Fenwick, of South Yorkshire police, said in a short statement: “There has been no new witnesses or additional evidence brought to the police. At this time there is insufficient evidence to re open the investigation.
“However, if new allegations or information is brought to the attention of the police, it will be fully investigated.”
8 September 2010