Kind-hearted Ken Haywood would do anything for anyone, taking sweets to staff at his local bank and going out of his way to help families during his career at Lancaster City Council’s housing department.
A Lancaster Royal Grammar School boy and originally from the city’s Newton estate, he served his country in the RAF.
But as unforgiving dementia slowly gripped him in his later years, his devastated family knew he needed proper care.
Son Chris, a married father-of-two from Lancaster, chose Hillcroft Nursing Home at Slyne in October 2010 after being impressed by staff and its specialist Coniston Unit.
But it was there that his father and seven other dementia sufferers were physically abused by carers who, a trial at Preston Crown Court heard, “mocked, bullied and assaulted” them for laughs when they were “bored”.
Chris, 37, a customer advisor in Carnforth, said: “Your worst nightmare in these scenarios is basically what’s happened.
“These are people I shared a cup of tea with while discussing my dad’s care.
“Were they laughing at us behind our backs and waiting for us to leave so they could do it again?”
Katie Cairns, 27, one of three care workers convicted on Friday, stamped on Mr Haywood’s foot so hard it broke his toe nail.
The bruise injury was found by his wife Mara Haywood, 62, on one of her daily visits.
Mrs Haywood, of Lancaster, who was married to her husband for 40 years, also found injuries on his hands and head.
Chris went on: “When you ask how they came about, you would get ‘oh, he fell over, he was unsteady’ or ‘he banged his head on the radiator’.
“Why would a person want to go and stamp on a man’s foot? He’s obviously no harm to them.”
Chris placed his father in care fearing he would be abused on the streets after he roamed late at night dazed and confused as his condition worsened.
He said: “It’s very upsetting, it’s inexcusable. I felt particularly guilty about it because I was the one who made the call to put dad in care because he was becoming a danger to himself.
“He did everything right by the book in his life that he had control of and, when he wasn’t in control because of the illness, he was let down.”
Chris relived the moment plain-clothed police turned up at work in May 2012 to tell him his father, who had died that January aged 72, might have been the victim of abuse.
Officers had been alerted by Lancashire County Council’s social services department.
Anonymous emails had also been sent to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) by a whistleblower.
He said: “I was shell-shocked.
“You always think this is something you hear about in the news about someone else. I had to leave work to meet the police at my mum’s house.”
The trial heard receptionist Nichola Pallister and cleaner Lisa Bateman both reported Carol Ann Moore, the unit’s team leader, for hitting a resident and raised other concerns.
Moore, Cairns and another worker were suspended but reinstated. The court heard workers who raised concerns were labelled “grass”.
Chris said he was “gobsmacked, angry and felt let down” when he learned of the arrests, explaining: “Me and mum used to take dad for a walk around the neighbouring housing estate and when we got back to Hillcroft, he didn’t want to go back in.
“We always put it down to the fact dad wanted to be kept outside and given a bit more freedom but I now feel he was trying to say to us, without being able to talk, ‘I don’t want to go back in there, they’re hitting me’.
“I had never been able to visit my dad’s grave until now. The first time I visited was Friday, after the trial ended.”
Chris, still on medication to cope with the trauma, hopes the case encourages people from all organisations to report wrong-doing.
And he emotionally expressed his gratitude to those who did just that at Hillcroft.
He said: “Whistleblowing has to be made acceptable.
“It was all covered up at Hillcroft.
“I want to say a huge thank you to the people for taking that leap of faith and stepping out of the dark and being counted.
“Without them plucking up the courage, I might never have known anything happened to my dad. It is what brought this case forward.”
Cairns, of Riverview Court, Morecambe was also found guilty of throwing bean bags at residents and a third count of ill treatment.
Moore, 54, of Ripon Avenue, Lancaster, denied slapping a resident in the face after his wife complained about a lack of activities at the home but was found guilty of the charge.
Gemma Pearson, 28, of Hill Street, Carnforth, was found guilty of tipping a man out of his chair.
A fourth carer, Darren Smith, 35, of Howgill Avenue, Lancaster, previously admitted abusing eight residents.
The charges related from May 2010 to September 2011.
All four were convicted of the ill-treatment and wilful neglect of a person with lack of capacity under the Mental Capacity Act.
They will be sentenced on January 10 and face possible jail terms of up to five years.
Chris added: “I hope they understand what they did and have some form of regret about what they did.
“I only hope my dad is happy where he is and that he feels justice has been done and he’ll be now able to rest in peace.”
Joanne Cunliffe, Crown Advocate for CPS North West Complex Casework Unit, said: “I would like to thank the witnesses who showed great bravery in coming forward and supporting the prosecution.
“I hope the fact that these defendants have now been brought to justice is of some comfort to the victims and their families.”
A statement on behalf of the victims’ families said: “There often comes a time when the family of the person with dementia has to put its trust in professionals to care for their relative and these professionals have a duty to treat the people they look after with dignity and respect.
“Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson have failed in this duty and we hope that sentencing will reflect that these crimes were committed against vulnerable people who could not stand up for themselves.
“There are also duties of care on the owners and management of Hillcroft, Lancashire County Council Adult Services, NHS North Lancashire and the CQC. We feel that there have been failings on the parts of all of these.”
Tony Martin, Lancashire county councillor and cabinet member for adult and community services, said: “We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of older people across the county and are working with Lancashire Safeguarding Adults Board, which has commissioned an independent review of all agencies’ actions.”
Detective Inspector Andy Hulme, of Lancashire Police, said: “These victims represent some of the most vulnerable members of our community who have been subjected to ill treatment at the hands of people who were entrusted to care for them and improve their quality of life.
“Instead Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson showed a total disregard for their wellbeing, displaying contemptible behaviour that should never be tolerated.
“We don’t believe that the behaviour shown by Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson is a true reflection of the majority of staff at Hillcroft and we believe the care home in Slyne is now a completely different environment.”