Secret report alleges systematic abuse of handicapped adults: No legal action has been taken against people believed to be responsible for brutal regimes at care homes. Tim Kelsey reports

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'PK is a gentleman who is blind, as well as having a learning disability. Descriptions of assaults on him include 'Gordon lying in wait and pouncing' and being deliberately dragged downstairs by the hair or ear and being deliberately pushed into furniture. He was often made to sit in a designated chair for days on end (one witness referred to two months) and belted around the head by Gordon Rowe whenever he went past. Being blind, he must have been in constant fear. Another person described how PK would be punched by Gordon Rowe as an 'example' to other residents. Yet another person described the physical injuries sustained by this blind gentleman when having been buggered by another resident. When PK was not being punished by sitting in the aforementioned chair by day, he would be in the classroom where he threaded beads - one person has told us he had been given nothing else to do for years.'

THIS EXTRACT is from one of the most damning reports ever produced into management of residential care homes in England. It was compiled by the head of inspections for Buckinghamshire County Council, which has decided it should be kept secret.

The investigation started in November 1993 and was concluded on 30 June. In internal memoranda, in the possession of the Independent, the council's director of social services, Jean Jeffrey, explained that the exceptional length of the internal inquiry was a consequence of understaffing in the Inspection Unit. No legal action has been taken as a result of the report against those believed responsible for abusing residents and the homes remain open.

Buckinghamshire County Council has allowed this because Gordon and Angela Rowe, the couple who owned Longcare, the company which runs the homes, have no current connection with their management. Mr and Mrs Rowe are no longer directors of Longcare Ltd; their son, Nigel and another man, Ray Craddock, are the new managers. Both men had worked at the homes in senior positions during the 10-year period investigated. According to the report both denied any knowledge of abuse at the homes and refused to comment when approached by the Independent yesterday.

Ms Jeffrey said in a covering note to the report which was considered by the social services casework sub-committee in July: 'There is sufficient material to conduct a case (to show that the two men were unfit and knew of the abuse); but also absolute certainty that it would be vigorously defended.'

The first home, Stoke Place Mansion House, in Stoke Poges, was opened in 1983. It has room for 38 mentally- handicapped adults. Its sister home, Stoke Green, was opened in 1987, with capacity for 28. Longcare Ltd also runs a number of 'small group units' catering for groups of four or five adults. The homes are used by a large number of local authorities around the UK, including Buckinghamshire and at least five in Greater London.

The homes charge pounds 403.50 a week per resident and this week members of staff said that the homes were nearly full. There are 36 residents in Stoke Place and, according to staff, the homes have just entered into a partnership training arrangement with a local college. When staff were asked where one could seek references, callers were told to contact social services.

Internal county council documents disclose that allegations of misconduct in the homes have been made over several years. They also reveal that Gordon Rowe was investigated by Somerset police after allegations of abuse in another residential home before 1983. No charges were brought.

In 1991, Buckinghamshire social services investigated allegations of assault involving Mr Rowe. It was claimed that he had dragged an elderly woman out of the house 'by her arm, hair and clothes and thrown (her) to cold and wet ground. Gordon Rowe stood over her for more than an hour and would not let her get up'. He was reprimanded for his conduct. 'Practices identified during the investigation were brought to Gordon Rowe's attention to be dealt with,' according to the confidential report.

The document recounts that further allegations were made in 1992 and 1993. The police were called in but discontinued inquiries because of insufficient evidence of abuse. In April 1993, a further complaint - from a former member of staff at one of the homes - disclosed allegations of physical and sexual abuse. In November 1993, more than two years after the first complaint of violence, a full investigation was mounted into the home.

According to the inspectors Mr and Mrs Rowe, Nigel Rowe and Mr Craddock made 'reference to some situations which they felt could have been misinterpreted, (but) all of the substantive allegations were denied'.

The inspectors say they found a 'culture in which physical assaults were seen as acceptable practice . . . a totally unacceptable regime which meant that a substantial group of vulnerable people were at times denied some of their most basic human rights . . . the basic humanity of residents was denied'.

Their report discloses that 40 instances of physical assault were alleged by 13 different people: 'The assaults described vary in severity from a kick or blows to the head to severe physical assault . . . it is the view of the investigating officers that the witnesses are, in the main, credible.' There were also many allegations of sexual abuse.

The investigation found that residents were assaulting each other. 'Notes in another individual's file indicated that he had buggered at least two residents - but again there was no indication of any involvement of any outside agency . . . (there were) references in the report books to several male residents who consistently had bleeding from the anus, and one female resident who had bruising around the anus.' The investigators concluded: 'There is deep concern that a culture may have existed in which abuse was seen as a minor infringement by the perpetrator and insignificant in the life of the victim.'

The lives of the residents were carefully controlled and contained within an environment of systematic humiliation. 'JG is described as a very affectionate lady with Downs syndrome who was mentioned by virtually everyone. It would appear that some problems developed with JG's eating . . . (she was allegedly) held upright by the hair and force-fed by both Gordon and Angela Rowe . . . (and) forbidden to eat in the dining room and having to eat out of doors, including in winter wearing only indoor clothes . . . The situation reached the stage when JG would herself take her meal outside to eat and refuse to eat in the dining room (presumably her logic was that she would end up outside anyway and this way she avoided a beating).'

Some residents were ''used as servants by Gordon and Angela Rowe. DHS and BM apparently cleaned the house, looked after the Rowe's son and cooked meals'. Others formed part of a 'workgang' which was employed in building work on the Rowes' new house in Windsor.

Money given by residents to the home owners for safekeeping was once spent on a party at a nightclub. Residents were, meanwhile, charged pounds 1 for hiring videos that belonged to Mr Rowe.

According to the report, there were allegations about the constant use of prescription sedatives and the poor quality of health care, and personal hygiene.

Residents were allowed only two sheets of lavatory paper, and had to ask every time it was required. 'There were other times when there was no toilet paper available . . . PC would use his flannel when there was no paper available and T witnessed Gordon Rowe rub PC's face in the soiled flannel as punishment.' Residents were allegedly locked in their rooms, sometimes for days, as punishment.

The inspectors said: 'All aspects of residents' lives were controlled for them . . . Report for 5.6.90 describes one resident being refused permission to go to the toilet because 'he merely wants to count the tiles'.'

Beds crisis, page 8

Statement by Buckinghamshire County Council

THE INSPECTION unit of Buckinghamshire County Council's social services department has carried out an extensive investigation into allegations of serious abuse at two residential homes in the south of the county run by a private care company.

The investigation began after concerns were reported about the well being of residents. As a result three people have been removed permanently from any involvement in the running of the homes.

Representatives of the company have given a series of undertakings intended to improve care for residents. Some of these measures are already being implemented.

As a result of the investigation, the county council's casework sub- committee agreed that the director of social services should pursue with the company action to comply with a number of formal requirements and requests for improvement. It also agreed to to increased monitoring of the two homes by the inspection unit.

These decisions were made taking into account the county council's responsibility for the safety and security of residents.

This followed careful consideration of the two possible avenues which could have led to the homes being closed down.

The county council obtained top legal advice which was that an application for urgent cancellation of the homes' registration by a magistrate would be unlikely to succeed on the evidence available, particularly as there had been recent changes in the homes' management.

This also meant that any proposal by the county council to cancel registration may well not have succeeded. The county council therefore concentrated on securing positive action by the company and this has already succeeded in securing some improvements and safeguards for the residents.

Buckinghamshire County Council still has four residents placed at the homes but has said that it will not make any more placements there.

The situation of each of these residents is currently being carefully reviewed and the county council is satisfied there is no evidence of mistreatment since the investigation.

Other local authorities which had residents placed at the homes have been informed of the investigation findings.

(Photograph omitted)