Leading Article: Shameful abuse of the mentally ill

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THE INDEPENDENT inquiry into sexual and physical abuse at the Longcare home in Buckinghamshire has been a long time in coming. The Independent first exposed the catalogue of crimes that Gordon Rowe and his colleagues subjected the helpless residents of his supposed care home to some four years ago, and it is a disgrace that we have had to wait until now for an inquiry. Buckinghamshire County Council deserves no credit for its eventual appearance. If it was not for the orders of Paul Boateng, the health minister, we would still be waiting. Their four year attempt to stop an inquiry was shameful.

The tragedy of this case is that it should never have happened. These were not secret crimes. Over ten years' evidence existed, showing that something was amiss. The council were repeatedly warned. But they did nothing. Although we seem to be confronted with such cases all the time, this case was made worse by the fact that the victims were not children but mentally handicapped adults. As a result of the plethora of child abuse cases, there are now reasonably firm procedures in place. When a case falls through the net, it is usually because of a failure to implement properly these procedures. The inquiry into Longcare shows that nothing like as much rigour is attached to the care of the mentally handicapped.

Under the Mental Health Act as it stands, the maximum sentence for neglect is two years. The inquiry recommends that a new ten year maximum sentence for harming and exploiting the mentally handicapped is introduced. At the very least, this should serve as a marker that such abuse should never happen. In addition, we need urgently to implement a much tighter system of registration and inspection. Without it, we will almost certainly see the emergence of more Gordon Rowes.