Court told of regime of fear against mentally ill

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Mentally ill patients in private care suffered 10 years of ill-treatment and fear in two residential homes which were more akin to an army camp, a court was told yesterday.

Patients, including two with Down's Syndrome and another who was blind, were left without dignity by the authoritarian and punitive regime at the homes in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, Kingston Crown Court was told. The catalogue of abuses endured by the residents including being slapped, being pulled by the hair and having jugs of cold water thrown over them, it was claimed.

They were denied toilet paper and other items and one woman was forced to eat outside on the patio in only light clothing even in the pouring rain. One group of residents, known as the "working lads", was made to work outside in the grounds without proper supervision every day and in all weather, even when they did not want to, it was claimed. They also helped builders at the private home of Gordon and Angela Rowe, who ran the residential home, the court heard.

Angela Rowe, 39, a former director of Longcare Limited, which ran Stoke Place Mansion House and Stoke Green House, denies four charges of ill- treating and two of neglecting mentally disordered patients in her care between 1983 and 1993. Desmond Tully, 33, who was described as effectively the manager of Stoke Place for several years, denies five charges of ill- treating patients. And Lorraine Field, 42, a senior care supervisor, also denies five counts of ill-treatment under 1983 Mental Health Act. The court was told that Gordon Rowe would have faced charges but had committed suicide in March last year. Jonathan Caplan QC, prosecuting, said: "Undoubtedly he was forceful personality whose influenced pervaded the daily lives of both residents and staff."

However, Mr Caplan added that the residential homes were a joint enterprise for Mr Rowe and his wife and she was a director and near half-owner in the business. She and the other two defendants before the court were aware of what was going on in the home and ill-treated some of the residents, Mr Caplan said.

The court heard that the two homes accommodated about 70 adult residents aged from 26 to 64 years who had mental ages of between three and six years. "Both of these homes were supposedly there to offer long- term care and training with a view to providing as happy and fulfilling a life for these residents as possible," Mr Caplan said. Both homes were registered with Buckinghamshire County Council. "The prosecution case is that over a period of time various acts of ill-treatment and neglect were carried out which left these residents without dignity and which were carried out in an atmosphere at these homes which was very largely authoritarian and punitive." All three defendants had limited training for working with mentally disabled people, Mr Caplan said.

Angela Rowe, originally of Harrington Close, Windsor, had "never had any formal training with regards to caring for the mentally handicapped or persons with disabilities." Mr Tully, of Riverview Drive, Exwick, Exeter, did some courses with Somerset Social Services and spent a year on a social-care course. Field, 42, of Pennyletts Green, Stoke Poges, had previously worked in a hospital and a youth centre before joining Longcare.

Mr Caplan told the jury some of the evidence they would be hearing might be distressing but said they must not be swayed by their emotions and should judge it dispassionately.