Three convicted after reign of terror at mental home

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The Independent Online
Three staff of a home for the mentally disabled will be sentenced next month after they were convicted of abusing residents in their care. Desmond Tully, 42, of Exeter, Devon, yesterday joined former colleagues Angela Rowe, a director of the homes, and Lorraine Field in being found guilty of ill-treatment.

Families who had been attending the case at Kingston Crown Court demanded a public inquiry into what happened at Stoke Place Mansion House and Stoke Green House in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.

In particular they want to know why the regime of Rowe and her late husband and fellow director, Gordon, went unchecked for 11 years. And detectives demanded tougher laws to prevent abuse in private residential homes.

Jon Bound, the retired superintendent who investigated the scandal, said details heard in court were "just the tip of the iceberg. New legislation needs to be introduced ... to cater for the growth of private-care homes with tighter procedures for their inspection and monitoring, together with guidelines for the employment of trained staff in addition to stringent checks being made on persons requesting registration. Those involved should not be allowed to make vast profits at the expense of other people's misery."

The police investigation into the scandal was launched in 1994 after the Independent revealed a secret Buckinghamshire county council report which found residents were subjected "to a catalogue of abuse, deprivation, humiliation and torment." Gordon Rowe committed suicide last year, the day before he was due to be charged with a string of abuse offences including three rapes.

Angela Rowe, 39, of Windsor, Berkshire, was yesterday found guilty of a fourth charge. A count of indecent assault will lie on file. Field, 42, has been convicted of three ill-treatment counts. A fourth which will remain on file.

Tully yesterday became the third member of staff to be convicted of ill- treatment. He was cleared of two other charges and a fourth will remain on file.

Police found evidence of mental, physical or sexual abuse against at least 40 of the 70 residents, some with mental ages as low as three. Respond, a charity which is counselling some of them, said they were the most seriously traumatised cases they had seen.

Pauline Hennessey, whose late sister Janet Ward was a resident, said: "At the end of the day, we placed our children in their care because social services recommended that this was a fit place for them to live. What happened?"

But Audrey Bainbridge, who chairs its social services committee, said they were proud of how they had investigated the home and protected residents' welfare.

Kingston Crown Court heard of a brutal, authoritarian regime. But the true picture, with bullying, manipulative Gordon Rowe in the middle of it, was far more alarming. In one incident, he hosed down a resident who had incontinence problems in the garden. He raped and sexually abused a number of his female "favourites" and beat and punched other residents.

He terrified staff and let it be known that he was a Mason with friends in useful places. Social services despair that no one reported problems earlier. But Gary Morten, who worked there, said: "You had to be there to understand the power and control that went on."

There were warning signs for the authorities. While Rowe was preparing to open Stoke Place, police were called in to his former workplace in Somerset to investigate claims that he had sexually abused a resident. No prosecution ensued and lawyers advised Buckinghamshire that they had no grounds to refuse him a care home license. A source in Somerset, however, says there was no prosecution only because the victim was mentally disabled.

There were clues, too, in the homes' record books, which described residents with medical problems left untreated for days and even hints of abuse. Some of the female "favourites" sometimes complained of soreness between the legs. Yet the first alarm was raised only in April 1991, when a local authority passed on a serious-assault allegation against Gordon Rowe.

In October 1993 Thames Valley police investigated other claims but decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute. The Police Complaints Authority is now investigating the police conduct.

Eventually, in November 1993, Buckinghamshire launched its own detailed investigation. Almost immediately, Gordon and Angela Rowe withdrew from management of the homes which were then providing an annual income of more than pounds 200,000 and a lifestyle which included two homes in America. Gordon's son, Nigel, was left in charge. There was no evidence of wrongdoing against him.

Many families felt the licences should have been withdrawn but the council's legal advice ruled against. Local authorities with residents at the homes were informed in June 1994 and some families received letters. But for others the first they knew of the abuse was when the Independent broke the story in September that year. They were appalled. The police investigation was reopened. After an initial interview, Gordon Rowe had a mental breakdown and was never again considered fit for questioning.

How a blind eye was turned to

kicks, punches and torments

One former member of staff broke down and cried in the witness box when he recalled how Jacqui Goddard had been treated, writes Louise Jury.

Jacqui is a tiny, partially-blind woman with Down's Syndrome. She was regularly dragged outside and forced to eat her meals on the patio dressed only in scanty indoor clothes, even in the bitter cold.

When her older brother, Bill, found out, he could barely believe it. "You couldn't print what I feel about the Rowes," he says. "When I found out I was heartbroken and I felt bitterly guilty. I should have known."

But even social services inspectors were missing the signs. Looking back, there were a few indications that all was not well. Gifts that Mr Goddard bought his sister all disappeared. Also, she was on nine different types of drugs - although one is now deemed sufficient to treat a thyroid problem.

It has emerged that Jacqui's own local authority, which placed her at the home, did not send a social worker to check on her for three years.

Lawyers acting for Jacqui, now 50, hope to take legal action against those Bill Goddard believes let the residents down - including the councils.

"I hold them responsible as well as Gordon and Angel Rowe and the rest," he says. "If it's the last thing I ever do, the borough councils are going to pay. I think she deserves something, don't you?"

Like Mr Goddard, Terry and Barbara McCarthy thought they were doing their best by their autistic son, Shaun. They arranged with social services for him to go into a home when he was 21 to prepare him for life when they were no longer able to care for him.

Shaun, now 37, became one of the "working lads," forced to spend day after day in the garden despite his hatred of it. Gordon Rowe kicked and punched him when he refused to go.

Even now, if Shaun is anywhere near Stoke Place, his body goes rigid in terror. Only when he realises he is not to be sent back can he relax and smile. He has been resettled at another home in Devon, where he is far happier.

There is no chance of that happening for another resident, Janet Ward, who died last year aged 28. Her sister, Pauline Hennessey, believes it was of a broken heart after the trauma of being raped by Gordon Rowe. The medical authorities say it was a seizure.

Janet was a pretty young woman who deteriorated completely at Stoke Place, becoming disruptive and violent and even losing the ability to speak. Only after she left the home did her family discover the appalling regime and that Rowe had been abusing her.

Her aunt June Raybaud said in the last few years of her life, Janet sighed a lot and laughed less. Janet spoke often of the impending court case where she would have given evidence. "She was going to tell the judge about the 'naughty people' and then the judge would put them into prison and then all of her friends would be safe," Mrs Raybaud recalls. "Her story always ended the same way - the naughty people went to prison."