Mentally ill 'used as slaves': Patients 'employed' as builders, leaked document alleges. Tim Kelsey reports

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The Independent Online
MENTALLY-handicapped residents at the two homes in Buckinghamshire were allegedly used as 'slave' labour by the owner of the homes.

Buckinghamshire County Council, which commissioned the report from its internal social services inspectorate, has refused to publish it. The homes remain open even though at least two staff alleged by inspectors to have some responsibility for the abuse are still there.

The current managers, who also worked at the homes during the period under investigation, have denied any knowledge of abuse. Since publishing news of the report's existence last week, several witnesses have approached the Independent to support many of its allegations.

One of the most disturbing was that Gordon Rowe, who was owner of Longcare Ltd, the company which operates the homes, was using some of the residents as free labour in construction work at his four- bedroom house in Windsor, and that he used others as painters and decorators at the homes themselves. Mr Rowe no longer has any direct association with Longcare, which is now run by his son Nigel.

One witness, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, described yesterday how minibus loads of mentally handicapped would arrive at Mr Rowe's house in 1992 and 1993 when he was building an extension over his garage. They would be employed lifting bricks and breeze-blocks for the building contractors and would be made to clear up after the builders and to weed his garden. 'Sometimes they would work all day,' the witness said. 'It was a regular occurrence and we were very concerned by it - but we did not know that he did not have permission to do it.' It has also emerged that Mr Rowe 'employed' other residents as workmen at Stoke Place and Stoke Green, homes for mentally handicapped adults in Stoke Poges.

Another source, who has asked not to be identified, said: 'Some of the kids would be made to paint and decorate but at the homes and at his house as well. He paid one boy pounds 1.50 a day in wages. I said to the boy that he should be asking for a lot more than that - pounds 1.50 was the amount of his social security allowance. All that was happening was they were working for money that should have been theirs in any case.'

The source described a culture of 'cruelty' in the home. He witnessed several physical assaults by staff on residents, and a vicious system of punishment. 'Every day people were simply put into the garden and left there if they did something wrong. This was in weather when even I had to stop working in the garden. And there were boys standing in the rain in their plimsolls.'

A third witness has described how residents had only one set of 'decent' clothing that they were only allowed to wear on the annual group holiday to Butlins. Otherwise it was locked in suitcases. For the rest of the year, the residents, who were rarely allowed outside the home to go to local shops, or even to visit local doctors, wore cast-offs. 'It was very difficult to get clothes for them,' the witness said.