Devon

Thirteen convicted over Devon care home abuse

Jolyon Marshall
Image caption The court heard Jolyon Marshall "corrupted" other staff members

Thirteen people have been convicted after an inquiry into "organised and systemic" abuse at two care homes for adults with learning disabilities.

Residents at Vielstone near Bideford, in Devon, were routinely punished by being held in empty rooms without food, heating or a toilet, a court heard.

Staff imprisoned them in the rooms, often overnight, during 2010 and 2011, as an abusive culture developed.

Manager Jolyon Marshall was jailed for 28 months.

Twelve other people, including other staff members and Marshall's wife, were convicted after a series of trials at Bristol Crown Court.

'Imprisoned against will'

During the trials, the directors and staff were accused of creating a culture whereby residents were left in the rooms more than 1,000 times with no furniture or a television for hours at a time.

The incidents took place at both Vielstone and its sister home Gatooma near Holsworthy.

Prosecutor Andrew Langdon QC said staff tried to correct residents' behaviour as if they would train an animal.

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Media captionHe spent 195 sessions in a 'quiet room', including 13 overnight stays

He said: "The prosecution say that each of them was effectively imprisoned in that room against their will.

"It was not a one-off but organised and systemic abuse of people with learning disabilities - vulnerable members of society who were residents in homes that were meant to care for them."

The rooms were known as either the "garden room" or the "quiet room".

Mr Langdon said: "Whatever the original purpose, these two rooms were used by staff to control - perhaps to even punish - residents at a time that was not only unacceptable by professional standards of care but was also quite unnecessarily cruel."

One man, who cannot be named, spent 195 sessions in the "quiet room", including 13 overnight stays.

His mother said the treatment was "barbaric, disgusting and unnecessary," and that she tried to flag up the problems.

Image caption Residents were held in punishment rooms at Vielstone care home

Timeline of events:

  • 1993: Paul Hewitt starts building care homes as the director of firm Atlas Project team
  • 2004: Gatooma care home opens with capacity for five residents. Hewitt was named as the responsible person
  • 2011: CQC inquiry launched after a tip-off from a whistleblower
  • 2012: All 15 Atlas care homes closed by CQC
  • 25 May 2016: Hewitt cleared by jury of conspiracy to falsely imprison residents but guilty of a health and safety offence. Four other staff cleared
  • July 2016: Four workers found guilty of false imprisonment at second trial
  • 14 October 2016: Jolyon Marshall sentenced to 18 months for conspiracy to falsely imprison residents and perverting the course of justice after pleading guilty. Five other staff sentenced after guilty pleas
  • 8 December 2016: Marshall's sentence is increased to 28 months by Court of Appeal
  • July 2016: Four other workers found guilty of false imprisonment charges at second trial. One found not guilty
  • 13 December 2016: Third trial ends - two workers are found guilty of one charge each of false imprisonment. Four others found not guilty

One former employee at Vielstone told the BBC the atmosphere was like an "ice block".

"There was no warmth, nothing - it was almost like a prison kind of regime," he said.

"They were treated like third class citizens the best part of the time."

Judge William Hart told Marshall: "You were the moving force at Vielstone after Paul Hewitt (company founder) moved back. You had control and power. The buck stops with you. You can't be a director and manager and then blame someone else.

"Rather than care in the community it became lack of care in the community.

"Those two rooms cast a dark shadow over people's lives."

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, welcomed the sentences.

"No-one should be subject to the degrading abuse people experienced and I am glad that the perpetrators have been recognised for the criminals they are," she said.

"The end of these trials is a chilling reminder that we must all remain vigilant to support and protect people in vulnerable circumstances who have every right to live their lives to the full, free from fear and treated with dignity and respect."

Defendants and charges

Ten men and 14 women were prosecuted during four trials at Bristol Crown Court, which can now be reported.

  • Paul Hewitt, 71, director: convicted of failure to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Found not guilty of conspiracy to detain and imprison falsely. He was fined £12,500 and ordered to pay costs of £105,000.
  • Jolyon Marshall, 42, director: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to detain and imprison falsely and perverting the course of justice. Jailed for a total of 18 months. This was later increased to 28 months' imprisonment by the Court of Appeal.
  • Rachel Marshall, 32, trainee manager: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to detain and imprison falsely. She received eight months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.
  • Timothy Stevens, 46, director: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to detain and imprison falsely. He received 10 months ' imprisonment, suspended for two years, and was also ordered to carry out 150 hours' unpaid work.
  • Victoria Cobbett, 27, deputy manager: Pleaded guilty to two charges of false imprisonment. She received a four-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months.
  • Timothy Berry, 26, care worker: Pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice. He received a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to carry out 100 hours' unpaid work.
  • Lisa Pluckrose, 47, care worker: Pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice. She received a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to carry out 60 hours' unpaid work.
  • James Lawson, 42, care worker: Found not guilty of one charge of false imprisonment on the direction of the judge. A jury found him not guilty of two charges and was unable to reach verdicts on a further five counts. No evidence offered by prosecution, judge recorded not guilty verdicts.
  • Aaron Jones, 34, care worker: The jury was unable to reach verdicts on three charges of false imprisonment. No evidence offered, not guilty verdicts recorded by judge.
  • Julie Barlow, 53, trainee manager: Found not guilty of two charges of false imprisonment. The jury was unable to reach a verdict of a further count. No evidence offered, not guilty verdict recorded by judge.
  • Lee Farrant, 31, trainee manager: Found not guilty of three charges of false imprisonment on the direction of the judge. A jury acquitted him of two further counts but could not reach a verdict on a further charge. No evidence offered by prosecution and the judge recorded a not guilty verdict.
  • Natasha Stapleton, 42: Found guilty of three charges of false imprisonment. She received a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Christine Kent, 58: Found guilty of two charges of false imprisonment. She received a four-month prison sentence, suspended for one year.
  • Alison Palmer, 43: Found guilty of one charge of false imprisonment. She received a conditional discharge for two years.
  • Sarah Eke, 43: Found guilty of one charge of false imprisonment. She received a conditional discharge for two years.
  • Dawn Bond, 48: She was found not guilty of three charges of false imprisonment on the direction of the judge.
  • Simon Beechy, 41: Found not guilty of three charges of false imprisonment.
  • Camilla Cameron, 26: Found not guilty of two charges of false imprisonment.
  • Lucy Cawsey, 28: Found not guilty of three charges of false imprisonment.
  • Samantha Honey, 28: Found guilty of one charge of false imprisonment and acquitted of a further two charges. She received a conditional discharge for 12 months.
  • Chloe Massey-Caines, 28: Found guilty of one charge of false imprisonment and acquitted of a further two charges. She received a conditional discharge for 12 months.
  • Mark Pilbrow, 38: Found not guilty of three charges of false imprisonment.
  • Russell Hewitt, 43: Found not guilty of failure to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act and false imprisonment.
  • Emma Turner, 30: Found not guilty of two charges of false imprisonment. The pair were also found not guilty of two joint charges of false imprisonment.

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