Council criticised for letting homes stay open

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The Independent Online
THE COUNCIL at the centre of controversy over two homes for the mentally handicapped in which residents were allegedly abused has stopped sending clients to the homes - despite allowing them to remain open.

Buckinghamshire County Council has allowed the homes to continue operating, it says, because the new management is not mistreating residents.

When ask ed why Buckinghamshire allowed others to stay at the home if it was not able to give it approved status, Audrey Bainbridge, chairman of the council's social services committee, said yesterday: 'We have four long-term residents and are currently satisfied that they are being well looked after but this is being reviewed all the time. However, it is not considered appropriate to place any further clients in the circumstances.'

Other local authorities send residents to the homes and one of them, Richmond, said yesterday that it was 'trying to get more information out of Buckinghamshire (about the decision to end approval)'.

Confidential memoranda leaked to the Independent show that Buckinghamshire was partly concerned about taking action to try to close the home because of the potential costs of such proceedings. The local authority has responsibility to ensure that residential care homes are properly managed, and the right to revoke registration where managers are deemed 'unfit'.

In one memo, Jean Jeffrey, director of social services, states: 'Further direct costs would accrue from any formal action.'

Buckinghamshire has decided not to publish a report compiled by internal social services inspectors into the two homes, Stoke Place and Stoke Green House, in Stoke Poges. Ms Bainbridge said the council was considering now if it was possible to publish.

'What I read in the report was shocking,' Ms Bainbridge said. 'The initial reaction of the committee members was . . . shock and a desire to do something quickly.

'We had to weigh up the risk of doing that and failing and this company coming back and looking like it had a clean bill of health,' she said. 'All the expert advice we received was that we would not have been successful in the courts.'

James Churchill, chairman of the Association for Residential Care, which represents those who run the 10,000 private residential and day care places for mentally handicapped adults available in the UK, said: 'I'm appalled at Buckinghamshire. . . . Does somebody have to die before they do anything?

'If the grounds on which they are not taking action is expense, then relatives should sue the council for failure of duty in care.'

John Huddart, Labour leader on Buckinghamshire County Council, said that he would be seeking urgent answers from both the police and the social services about their conduct in this case. 'I am very concerned that so little appears to have been done,' he said.

Police were first notified of allegations at one of the homes in 1991, more than two years before social services started their investigation.

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police denied that officers had acted negligently. He claimed that it was not possible to prosecute over allegations of assault because all physical injuries would have disappeared.

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