Police reopen abuse homes inquiry: Buckinghamshire Council withheld evidence of mistreatment of mentally handicapped for two months

POLICE last night reopened their investigation into allegations that mentally handicapped residents were abused at two Buckinghamshire homes.

The Independent has also learnt that Buckinghamshire County Council withheld detailed evidence of abuse from the police and local authorities for more than two months. Some of that evidence has been leaked by social workers who are worried that the full extent of abuse in the homes has not yet emerged.

The new police investigation, headed by two detective inspectors based in Slough, will examine allegations of assault made against Gordon and Angela Rowe, former managers of Stoke Place House and Stoke Green House, in Stoke Poges. Mr and Mrs Rowe were not available for comment yesterday. An investigation in July last year into allegations of assaults on residents of the homes and suspicion of buggery ended with the police concluding there was insufficient evidence to pursue the matter.

Evidence in the possession of the Independent which shows Buckinghamshire has acted illegally in failing to inspect adequately private residential homes was passed to the Department of Health yesterday. A department spokesman said that Buckinghamshire County Council had been asked to explain why it had not regularly inspected homes under its jurisdiction.

The county council conducted an internal investigation into the allegations in November 1993 and produced a report in June 1994. This was given to the police, who at the time did not investigate, and to other local authorities who had placed residents in the homes. The council has refused to publish the report.

Details of witness statements made to the inquiry and seen by the Independent contain serious allegations which were not in the social services inspectors' report and were passed to the police only last Tuesday and to local authorities at about the same time.

A Thames Valley police source said: 'It would not be right to enter a slanging match over why the council has been so slow in handing this material over.'

Buckinghamshire County Council said in a statement last night: 'We have been co-operating with the police throughout and are continuing to do so. That co-operation has included a willingness to share information with police at every stage. We are unable to comment further on continuing investigations. Circulation of the report was strictly limited to authorities which needed to know because they are responsible for a resident. This was necessary in order for the document to retain qualified privilege. Circulation of the witness statement also had to be limited for the same reason.'

The council says that it has allowed the homes to remain open because the new management had made improvements and because Mr and Mrs Rowe have no contact with it. The new managers are Nigel, the Rowes's son, and Ray Cradock, a family friend.

The social services department is conducting an urgent inquiry into allegations of misconduct against residents at the home last week.

Relatives of several residents at the homes have taken legal advice and are planning to sue the county council for negligence.

Distraught relatives of one resident in one of the homes said yesterday that statements made to the inquiry disclosed the systematic abuse of a 39-year-old man who cannot speak and has severe learning disabilities.

'We had been worried about the home for some time but we didn't make a fuss. We were worried he would only suffer further,' one relative said. The witness statements said the disabled man was hosed down with cold water for messing himself and was deprived of food because Gordon Rowe considered him a 'dirty animal'. He was also forced to eat meals outside. 'I remember it was very, very cold that day,' said one witness. '(Gordon Rowe) said 'Stay there, you animal - you act like one and I will treat you like one'.'

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