Coffins 'punishment' for mentally handicapped: Tales of bizarre scare tactics prompt new investigation into alleged cruelty against residents of two private homes

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The Independent Online
RESIDENTS of two Buckinghamshire homes for the mentally- handicapped at the centre of controversy over physical and sexual abuse have allegedly been given miniature coffins as a bizarre punishment.

Buckinghamshire social services have been made aware of the claims within the past few days by members of staff and is understood to have one of the coffins. The Independent has also learnt that some residents are due to go on a 'fly-drive' holiday to Florida next month where they may come into contact with the former manager of the homes. Buckinghamshire County Council has allowed the homes to remain open despite an investigation by internal inspectors earlier this year which alleged rape, buggery and systematic humiliation. They said the former manager Gordon Rowe, and his wife Angela, no longer had any connection with the homes or residents, and that the new management was making improvements.

The council has stated that it has no fears for residents' safety. However, it has admitted that it will no longer be sending any of its clients to the homes.

In a statement issued last night, the council confirmed receiving allegations about the coffins and said: 'The head of inspection has visited as a matter of urgency to find out the position from the manager concerned.'

It added: 'We have no knowledge of the information you give in your question about a trip to Florida and are checking the situation.'

Bill Goddard, whose sister Jacqui is a resident in the home and has allegedly been systematically mistreated and physically assaulted, is to take legal action against the council for breach of statutory duty. Jacqui, who is 47 and suffers from Downs Syndrome, was force-fed, according to both the Inspector's report and to witnesses who have spoken to the Independent. She was also forced to eat outside in all weathers, witnesses claimed.

Social services were informed late last week of new allegations of misconduct against the current management of the homes. According to sources, who have asked not to be identified, there was a fire drill last Thursday in one of them, Stoke Place in Stoke Poges.

The fire bell did not work and three residents and two staff members were unaware that there had been a practice.

Later the five who failed to respond were, according to the source, 'presented with a coffin with RIP on the top of it, and they were told that they would die and that their ashes would be scattered on the ground and nobody would care.'

The miniature coffins - 'the size of a ballpoint pen' - were apparently made in the woodwork classroom of the homes, possibly by residents. The residents have allegedly been told to keep the coffins by their beds permanently.

It has also emerged that several residents are due to go to Disney World in Florida next month. They are believed to be staying in property that belongs to Gordon Rowe's son Nigel, in Kissimee, four miles away. Gordon Rowe is also said to have property in the area, and staff claim that the residents are likely to meet him during their holiday.

The social services department is aware that the Rowes have property in Florida. The County Council inspectors reported that they had been made aware of 40 allegations of assault by Mr Rowe against residents and had deprived them of their 'basic humanity.'

'I am worried very much about the safety of these vulnerable people,' said one source. 'I have contacted social services but they say they have no jurisdiction and so they can't stop the residents seeing Gordon.'

Mr Rowe cannot be found, and the Independent was told by staff at one of the homes that there was no one available for comment from Longcare Ltd, the company which manages them.

(Photographs omitted)