Carers carried out gratuitous assaults - in depth court report

Hillcroft Nursing Home, Throstle Grove, Slyne wth Hest.
Hillcroft Nursing Home, Throstle Grove, Slyne wth Hest.

Four carers who launched a sustained campaign of abuse against vulnerable dementia patients for “gratuitous sport” have been sentenced.

The callous quartet slapped and dragged the screaming patients from their beds and pelted beanbags at their heads for “laughs” during the assaults which went on for 17 months at the Hillcroft nursing home.

One man also had his foot stamped on and another was nearly tipped out of his wheelchair.

But despite complaints at the privately run Hillcroft Nursing Home near Lancaster, there was a ‘cover-up’ and the abuse against the eight patients.

Team leader Carol Ann Moore, 54, senior carer Darren Smith, 35, and nurses

Katie Cairns, 27, and Gemma Pearson, 28, who targeted residents with severe dementia because they would have no memory of the assaults, carried out the abuse when they were bored.

Sentencing all four carerson Friday, January 10, Judge Michael Byrne said: “The offences you committed were carried out as a gratuitous sport at the expense of vulnerable victims.

“Victims of dementia are extremely vulnerable and susceptible to others. Their quality of daily life is dependent on the help of others.

“Carers may be driven to a momentary loss of temper but each of these defendants deliberately broke the trust placed in them.

“Any deliberate act of ill treatment is wholly unacceptable.

“This is a serious deviation of the standard of care expected from carers in your position.

“Much evidence in the trial revealed that there was, at the relevant times, a lax regime with weak and inadequate management on the unit which allowed the kind of conduct to carry on undetected and without proper and adequate control.

“A lack of proper management allowed a culture to develop where conduct of this sort was allowed to carry on.”

Preston Crown Court heard the abuse only came to light when a whistleblower contacted the Care Quality Commission three times and a police investigation lasting five months followed.

Prosecutor Kathryn Johnson said that the defendants, who were on the day shift at the Coniston Unit at the home, which looked after dementia patients who displayed ‘challenging behaviour’, carried out the abuse when they were bored and as revenge for a complaint which was made against the home.

Receptionist Nichola Pallister complained in 2011 after seeing Moore slap patient Harry Bell across the face when his wife complained about the lack of activities at the home.

Ms Pallister heard Moore say she would get her own back before walking up to Mr Bell and striking him.

Miss Johnson said that patients would have beanbags and balls thrown at their heads and Gemma Pearson attempted to tip a resident out of his wheelchair when he failed to stand up.

Cleaner Lisa Bateman saw Smith and another carer in bed with elderly patient Roy Penson and said that the patient was shouting and appeared distressed.

She also described the staff as “cruel” said that Cairns stamped on resident

Ken Heywood’s foot, making him cry out in pain.

Cairns would pick on one man in particular, pulling loose skin on his neck and laughing, calling it a “mangina.”

He had bruises around his nipples and Cairns was seen to flick them.

Miss Johnson said the staff were suspended for “a few weeks” in October 2011 and social services were never contacted. The defendants were also told not to mention their suspension to other carers.

The staff were eventually arrested on October 10, 2012, after the complaints were referred to the Care Quality Commission earlier that year following three anonymous emails.

Miss Johnson said it took so long for the allegations to come to light because staff who complained were labelled ‘grass’ and given the cold shoulder.

At the sentence hearing, Michael Rowlinson, the son of one of the dementia patients abused, read out a statement.

He said: “What type of person treats others with such disrespect?

“My dad is a retired chartered surveyor and has been married to my mum for 57 years.

“By Christmas 2009, his Alzheimer’s got worse and it had become to difficult to care for him at home.

“In summer 2010 he moved into Hillcroft. The decision to put my dad into care was one we didn’t take lightly.

“As a family we were left with feelings of guilt. It was probably the worst day of our lives.

“This guilt only worsened when in May 2012 we found out my dad have been subjected to abuse and humiliation.

“We don’t know how dad feels about it because of his illness but we know he would not have tolerated this type of behaviour if he had seen it happen to others.

“We feel angry that this could have been allowed to happen to dad and sorry that mum had to know about it.

“We wonder if things could have been different if we had asked more questions or looked a bit closer.

“We will always wish we could have been able to look after dad at home.

“We hope that this sentence will reflect the crimes which have been committed against vulnerable people who couldn’t look after themselves.

“It seems clear that managers covered up the allegations and failed in their basic duty to provide safe care for residents.

“They have not been held accountable properly by the Care Quality Commission and it took an unacceptable length of time to involve the police.

“We are still waiting for formal apologies from the defendants and the directors of Hillcroft.”

In a victim impact statement read out in court, Amanda Broadbent, the daughter of one of the victims, described the devastation the revelationshave had on the family.

She said: “We feel a huge amount of guilt. We moved my father to the home thinking it would be the best place for his care.

“He is an exceptional father and we love him dearly and we have found it very distressing to listen to the evidence given at the trial.

“I have struggled to sleep at night and find it difficult to understand what has happened and how somebody would treat someone in this way.”

Smith, who admitted eight counts under the Mental Capacity Act following his arrest, was sentenced to eight months in prison for throwing bean bags at patients.

Moore was jailed for four months for slapping a patient in the face and Cairns for five months for stamping on a patient’s foot, throwing bean bags at residents and for taunting another patient by pulling the loose skin on his neck.

Pearson was given a 12 month community order and 40 hours of unpaid work for attempting to tip a patient out of his wheelchair.