Abuse at Veilstone and Gatooma homes in Devon

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Specialist abuse lawyer, Rachel Thain, highlights a culture of ‘organised and systematic’ abuse at Veilstone and Gatooma care homes in Devon against vulnerable adults with learning difficulties

We have been horrified by the unfolding story of widespread abuse of adults with learning difficulties at care homes in North Devon, culminating in thirteen criminal convictions.

In 2011, following a tip-off from a whistle-blower, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) launched an investigation into Veilstone near Bideford and its sister home, Gatooma near Holsworthy. The concerns related to numerous incidents in 2010 and 2011 where residents were imprisoned against their will as a form of punishment.

In May 2016 the first of a long line of staff members from the homes faced charges in the Bristol Crown Court. A number of criminal trials ensued, during which the true horrors faced by the residents of the homes came to light. Both homes contained a ‘quiet room’ or a ‘garden room’, which were routinely used by staff to imprison residents against their will. It is understood these rooms were used as a form of punishment for residents and to control them.

The rooms were empty, with no furniture, heating or a toilet. There was often no access to food or water it has been reported. The residents would be held in the room for long periods of time and routinely overnight. The Court heard the residents were treated like animals. An abusive culture developed within the home which is highlighted by the numerous convictions. Simply put, this was systematic, organised and widespread abuse of vulnerable people carried out in a cruel manner.

Organisations such as residential homes and care homes have a duty and responsibility to ensure the health, safety and well-being of the often vulnerable individuals in their care. Family members put their faith in these institutions and in the members of staff employed by them to provide their loved ones with the level of care they deserve. Sadly, our abuse team at Slee Blackwell see far too often that this is not always the case. This includes schools caring for children and adults with learning difficulties, residential homes and care homes for the elderly who may suffer from dementia. Veilstone residential home is yet another example of this.

It is quite common for vulnerable individuals who are being subjected to abuse or sub-standard care to be unable to report the harm they are suffering. Often, family members will raise concerns with the organisation in question but in cases such as this, where there is an ingrained culture of abusive treatment, their concerns often fall on deaf ears. It has been reported that the mother of one resident tried to flag up the problems after it was revealed her son had been imprisoned in the ‘quiet room’ on 195 occasions, including 13 overnight stays.

 A total of ten men and fourteen women were prosecuted during four trials at the Bristol Crown Court. This included directors, deputy managers, trainee managers and care workers. Thirteen defendants were found guilty. However, the range of allegations indicates that this problem was widespread throughout every level of the organisation.

Rachel Thain, who is experienced in dealing with cases of abuse against individuals with learning difficulties and dementia, in both day and residential settings, commented:

The way in which these individuals were treated was simply unacceptable. There is no excuse or justification for the actions of these members of staff. Instead of providing care and support as they should have done, they engaged in acts of unnecessary cruelty. What is extremely concerning in this case is that this was not a one off incident, or a rogue member of staff behaving in an abusive manner. Instead, this was a widespread , institutionalised culture of treating residents in their care in an inhuman and abusive way. What saddens me is that in an organisation where the abuse was so widespread, who did these residents have to turn to for protection?

If a friend or family member has been affected by the abuse at Veilstone and Gatooma, or any other organisation, please contact our specialist team in confidence for a no obligation chat by calling Freephone 01271 372128.