Hillcroft nursing home staff sentenced for resident abuse
Four care workers have been sentenced for abusing elderly residents at a care home in Lancashire.
Darren Smith, 35, from Lancaster, had pleaded guilty and was jailed for eight months at Preston Crown Court.
Katie Cairns, 27, was jailed for five months, Carol Moore, 54, was sentenced to four months and Gemma Pearson, 28, was given a 12-month community order.
The abuse took place from May 2010 to September 2011 at Hillcroft nursing home in Slyne-with-Hest near Lancaster.
They were charged with ill-treatment and wilful neglect of a person with lack of capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Residents were mocked, bullied and tormented because they would have no memory of the abuse.
'Feelings of guilt'
The court was told one man had his foot stamped on deliberately and another was nearly tipped out of his wheelchair.
The vulnerable victims were also pelted with bean bags and balls at their heads "for entertainment".
The offences related to eight victims, seven men and one woman, all aged in their 70s or 80s, with the eldest aged 85.
During sentencing Judge Michael Byrne said: "Some of the offences were gratuitous sport at the expense of vulnerable victims.
"Each of these defendants broke the trust placed in them."
One victim's son, who chose to stand in the witness box to give his witness impact statement in person, said he was "angry".
Michael Rowlinson, whose father Norman has Alzheimer's disease, said: "We had feelings of guilt for not being able to look after him.
"Our feelings of guilt only worsened when we found out that dad had been subjected to humiliation and ill-treatment by those who were trusted to care for him."
The son of the man whose foot was stamped on thanked the whistleblowers who were "brave enough" to come forward.
After a trial in November, Cairns, of Riverview Court, Morecambe, was convicted of three charges.
Team leader Moore, of Ripon Avenue in Lancaster, was found guilty of one offence involving striking a resident.
The jury found Pearson, of Hill Street, Carnforth, tipped a resident out of a wheelchair. She was also ordered to complete 40 hours of community service by the court.
Smith, of Howgill Avenue, admitted eight counts of ill-treatment ahead of the trial. He was seen in bed with a distressed resident.
Judge Byrne added: "A lack of proper management allowed a culture to develop where conduct of this sort was allowed to carry on."
The court had heard they had previously been suspended from the home following abuse allegations made by a receptionist and a cleaner in September 2011.
But they returned to work after being handed warnings as a result of an internal investigation and the matter was not referred to the police or social services.
It was several months later that arrests were made after the whistleblower wrote to health inspectors.
After receiving the letter the Care Quality Commission (CQC) then contacted Lancashire County Council's safeguarding board to say the abuse was still ongoing.
Det Ch Insp Andy Hulme said a review was taking place to "ensure better protection for vulnerable adults in residential care" and "all recommendations will be addressed accordingly".
He described the abusers as "cowardly" and said their conduct was "utterly contemptible".
He added: "I don't believe that the behaviour shown by Smith, Cairns, Pearson and Moore is a true reflection of the majority of staff at Hillcroft.
"I am satisfied that the care home in Slyne-with-Hest is now a completely different environment, with the quality of care afforded to all residents being carefully managed and monitored."
A statement was issued by police on behalf of the families of the victims who said there were "lessons to be learned" and they hoped the ongoing review would result in changes in the law.
It said: "Following the first contact from whistle-blowers, it took an unacceptable length of time for the authorities to involve the police and we hope that those responsible can reflect on the consequences of their inaction and make changes accordingly."
"We are still waiting to receive formal apologies from Moore, Cairns and Pearson, from Lancashire County Council and from the Directors of Hillcroft," the statement said.
Following sentencing, Lancashire County Council apologised for the delay in contacting police about the allegations.
Councillor Tony Martin, cabinet member for adult and community services at the council, said: "We are sorry there was a delay in sharing the allegations with the police."
"Since April 2013 all safeguarding alerts we receive are now passed to a multi-agency safeguarding hub, where they are dealt with by social workers, health workers and police officers working alongside each other," he added.
The CQC has announced it is planning "major changes" to the way care homes are inspected.
Malcolm Bower-Brown, CQC's regional director for the North said: "We are planning major changes to the way we inspect care homes and other social care services.
"As part of this process we want to learn all we can from this case and have met recently with some of the family members involved."
"We are extremely grateful to them for sharing their experience with us and have listened carefully to their suggestions for improvements to our inspection processes," he added.