Council ignored warnings of abuse by care home head

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The Independent Online
Warnings that the owner of two homes for the mentally disabled had a history of abusing residents were ignored by Buckinghamshire County council 10 years before an eventual investigation revealed extensive mistreatment at the homes.

Brent council, which had a resident in a home in Somerset run by Gordon Rowe, alerted Buckinghamshire in September 1983 that Mr Rowe had abused at least16 residents there but the warning was ignored and no response was received.

Mr Rowe, who committed suicide last year just before being charged by police, abused a large number of residents at the two homes he owned and ran at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire. Police found evidence of mental, physical or sexual abuse including rape against at least 40 of the 70 residents some with mental ages as low as three, in the Stoke Poges homes. Three other care workers were convicted of abuse last year and two, including Mr Rowe's widow, Angela, were sent to jail.

Brent sent the warning to Buckinghamshire just as Mr Rowe was applying for a licence to run the homes but no action appears to have been taken. Mike Boyle, Brent's social services director, has now written to Buckinghamshire which, following pressure from the new Government, has launched an inquiry into the affair which first came to light when an internal Buckinghamshire report was published by The Independent.

Mr Boyle said yesterday: "This was not a matter of a social worker saying there were a few allegations. It is clear from the file that there was clear proof of the abuse." Mr Boyle says that there is an important issue at stake: "People responsible for care homes who are worried about potential abusers should not wait to get the same standard of proof that a criminal court requires. It was clear that there was sufficient evidence to refuse Mr Rowe a licence."

Brent also warned the then Department of Health and Social Security about its findings but appeared to have likewise received no reply from them.

Tory-controlled Buckinghamshire had been reluctant to undertake an inquiry arguing that it had already learnt the lessons of the affair. Buckinghamshire's report on the allegations was completed in June 1994 but the council's social services department kept its findings confidential.

The new inquiry was only launched in July after pressure from Paul Boateng, the junior health minister, who wanted to know why the council had allowed the homes to continue operating long after the abuse was discovered and whether there are wider lessons to be learnt for the care of people with learning disabilities.

However, Mr Boyle is concerned that the remit of the Buckinghamshire inquiry is too narrow. He said: "They are only looking at events in 1993 and 1994, but it is clear that the abuse had been going on for 10 years and other authorities may also have issued warnings.

A spokesman from Buckinghamshire said that the authority could find no trace of the Brent correspondence in its files. He added: "At the time, we asked generally for any evidence about why we should not register Mr Rowe but received none."