Safeguard for homes in abuse row

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MENTALLY handicapped residents who, it is claimed, were persistently physically and sexually abused at two private homes, are to be given assertiveness training as a safeguard to allow the homes to remain open.

The condition laid down by Buckinghamshire social services emerged yesterday after John Bowis, the health minister, urgently demanded to know what measures the authority had demanded of the company, Longcare Ltd, in allowing it to continue running the homes.

But solicitors for the council were also in contact with the Department of Health after Herbert Laming, chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate, said he had been advised that the authority had the legal powers to close the homes.

The investigation by Buckinghamshire's inspectors into allegations of mistreatment of patients at Stoke Place Mansion House and Stoke Green, said to be primarily by the owner, Gordon Rowe, concluded that getting the licences revoked would be extremely difficult.

In an effort to find a way forward the authority stipulated changes to be made at the company and the homes, despite the allegations that Gordon Rowe and others were responsible for abuse of patients and imposing a regime of fear.

The assertiveness training is to be provided by a local college, and an advocacy system is to be introduced for patients.

Chief among the alterations to the structure of Longcare Ltd was that Gordon Rowe and his wife, Angela, should retire and sell their shares, giving his son Nigel, and Ray Craddock, both staff at the homes, control.

But yesterday former care workers at the homes said that both Nigel Rowe and Mr Craddock were aware of the allegations of sexual and physical abuse, and did nothing.

One woman, a care worker at the home for six years from 1987, said she told Nigel Rowe on two occasions about his father's conduct but nothing had happened.

Another worker who was employed at the home in 1992 claimed she had been 'interrogated' by both Nigel Rowe and Mr Craddock as they tried to find out who had made anonymous allegations about Gordon Rowe's abuse of female patients.

Yesterday, relatives of a mentally handicapped patients alleged to have been made to eat outside in winter by the owners of Stoke Place Mansion House said they were going to sue on her behalf.

Bill Goddard read a copy of the social services inspectors' report, revealed in the Independent, and discovered a reference to 'JG', his sister Jacqui, 47, who has Down's syndrome and experiences difficulties with eating, and a passage alleging that she was force-fed by Gordon Rowe and his wife, Angela.

He said that he was conmpletely devastated when he read the report and flung the newspaper across the room. Yesterday, he contacted Lydia Sinclair, a solicitor specialising in abuse cases, and they plan to visit Jacqui next week.

Ms Sinclair said there appeared to be grounds to sue Longcare and its former directors, Mr and Mrs Rowe, for negligence on the basis of the information in the Buckinghamshire County Council report.

She added that any action for negligence would involve showing that those responsible for Jacqui had failed to fulfil their duty of care towards her.

Training for residents, page 2