Trio guilty of abusing frail pensioners

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

Three “cruel” care workers have been found guilty of ill-treating elderly dementia sufferers at a nursing home “for laughs”.

Residents at Hillcroft Slyne-with-Hest nursing home were mocked, bullied and tormented because they would have no memory of the abuse, with one man having his foot stamped on deliberately and another tipped out of his wheelchair.

And the vulnerable victims were also pelted with bean bags at their heads “for entertainment”, Preston Crown Court heard.

Carol Ann Moore, 54, Katie Cairns, 27, and Gemma Pearson, 28, were found guilty by a jury of ill-treatment or neglect of a person who lacks capacity, under the Mental Capacity Act, after a four week trial.

Despite a series of complaints from whistle-blowers at the home there was a “cover-up” and the abuse continued.

Moore, the team leader from Lancaster, was found guilty of one charge. Cairns, from Morecambe, was convicted of three charges.

Pearson, of Carnforth, was also convicted of tipping another resident out of his wheelchair.All three will be sentenced at a later date along with Darren Smith, 35, from Lancaster, who has already admitted eight counts and was not on trial.

The offences spanned from May 2010 to September 2011 and related to eight alleged victims, all aged in their 70s or 80s, with the eldest aged 85.

The three defendants and Darren Smith all worked the day shift on the Coniston Unit at the home near Lancaster, which housed residents diagnosed with dementia and displayed “challenging behaviour”, the court heard.

Kathryn Johnson, prosecuting, told the court the four in “varying ways” ill-treated residents.

“They mocked them, bullied them and on occasions deliberately assaulted them,” she said.

Ms Johnson said bean bags should have been used as part of recreational therapy but they were thrown so hard and fast that residents were unable to catch them.

“This caused frustration and anger in the residents, whereas the defendants would laugh,” she said.

Smith and Moore would say “they were doing it for their entertainment as they were bored” and if residents objected they “would be subjected to it all the more”.

Hillcroft was one of six homes owned by John Ayrton, and another carer, Adrian Visoka, said there was a decline in standards when Elaine Fallowfield moved from the firm’s nursing home in Lancaster to take over as matron at the Coniston Unit - bringing her “favourite”, Darren Smith, with her.

Staff who complained to either Ms Fallowfield or area manager Sue Young were labelled “grass” and given the cold shoulder, the court heard.

And it appears that some who complained were given the impression that social services had been called in - but they were never informed of the alleged abuse.

Detective Inspector Andy Hulme said: “I am pleased with the verdicts.

“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.

“I would like to take this opportunity to commend those members of staff who had the courage and decency to speak out against this despicable behaviour.

“If it wasn’t for their brave actions we may not be where we are today.

“I would also like to praise the families of the victims who trusted these people to care for their relatives and treat them with dignity and respect.

“To learn that they failed in their professional duty to this must have been utterly heart-breaking, yet they have conducted themselves with dignity throughout the investigation and subsequent trial.

“From the outset, the main aim of this investigation was to establish if any abuse had taken place and if it had, to put an immediate stop to it.

“I am pleased to say we have been able to do that.

“The safety and wellbeing of all residents being cared for by the Hillcroft Group was always a priority.

“We have been working with other agencies to ensure all appropriate safeguards are in place and work continues in this area by Lancashire County Council and NHS North Lancashire.

“A multi-agency learning review is continuing to ensure that any lessons learnt will be fully explored and actioned where appropriate.

“The review, which has been running parallel to the investigation and judicial proceedings, aims to ensure better protection for vulnerable adults in residential care.

“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, with the quality of care afforded to all residents being carefully managed and monitored.

“Smith, Moore, Cairns and Pearson will now have time to reflect on their actions and I hope they can see just how appalling their behaviour was.”

The families of the victims gave the following statement: ““It is impossible to imagine what it’s like to have dementia and as relatives we do our best to speak for the victims of these crimes, who are unable to speak for themselves.

“As the disease progresses, we see our relative change and we do our best to care for them, but we have not been trained how to handle difficult situations.

“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 & 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.

“The section of the home at the centre of this case is a challenging behaviour unit and the description speaks for itself.

“To work in a challenging behaviour unit must be incredibly difficult, requiring patience and understanding, not to mention training and professionalism, but the difficulty of the job does not excuse mistreatment on any level.

“Mistreatment is unlikely to occur in front of relatives or during an inspection by the CQC and not all forms of abuse leave visible scars.

“We believe that families, in particular those with relatives in challenging behaviour units, should be able to contribute to the periodic review of standards in that care home.

“In many cases, people with advanced dementia are not able to communicate and this means that we as relatives might not know if something untoward has occurred to them.

“It is not always easy for relatives to raise concerns, for fear of becoming a trouble-maker and something must be done to change this situation.

“It is important that so called “whistle-blowers” are listened to and we thank and admire the courage of those who came forward to report the mistreatment at Hillcroft.

“We would also like to publicly thank the Prosecution Counsel, CPS and Lancashire Police for carrying out a professional investigation and for their support over the last 18 months.”

All four will be sentenced on Friday, January 10, at Preston Crown Court.