Council broke the law over homes for handicapped

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The Independent Online
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE County Council yesterday admitted that it had failed in its legal responsibility to provide adequate inspections at private residential homes.

The council has refused to close down two homes for the mentally handicapped where residents were allegedly raped, beaten and humiliated. Last night, the Department of Health said ministers would expect an explanation from the council for its failure to inspect homes and could appoint an independent commissioner to run the county's social services.

The council conceded lapses in inspections in a statement last night: 'We accept the requirements under the legislation but the exceptional circumstances of 1993/4 meant we were not able to (inspect homes).'

Thames Valley police have confirmed they are investigating new evidence of abuse at two private homes in Stoke Poges which has emerged since the Independent reported the alleged abuse last week.

An internal report by Buckinghamshire social services detailing the allegations has not been published, and the homes remain open - the council says that it is acting in the interests of residents. One condition that the council has made is that Gordon Rowe, who managed the homes during the period when the abuse was alleged to have taken place, has no contact with them.

The Buckingham Association of Care Homes, a voluntary organisation representing 90 per cent of residential and nursing homes in the county, said yesterday: 'Social services has failed to adequately inspect our homes.' In a recent survey it conducted of 35 home owners in the county (accounting for about 50 of the 120 homes), a quarter said they had not been inspected for a year, and 3 per cent said they had not been inspected for nearly two years. The council has a legal duty to inspect at least twice a year.

Jennifer Waldron, head of inspections at Buckinghamshire social services, was aware of the survey but has failed to reply to letters from the association pleading for more inspections. The association issued an open letter to Mrs Waldron last month, saying: 'Members have asked us to enquire why you are able to excuse your breach of statutory duty in failing to inspect each home at least twice annually.'

In its statement, Buckinghamshire said last night: 'We do not accept (the Independent's) reference to the 'complete failure of the inspection unit to do its job'. The annual report shows that 88 per cent of homes were visited at least once'.

Coffin punishment, page 3

Letters, page 17