Letter: Abuse: now we must learn the lessons

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Sir: Dr Maurice Brook (letter, 16 May) draws attention to the eventual judgment against three staff in two Buckinghamshire homes for people with learning disabilities. These were large homes, seemingly cut off from the local community, with residents sponsored by local authorities from all over the country, and in some cases with no local authority even theoretically interested in their personal welfare. Sadly, abuse has also occurred in hospitals, hostels, large and small homes and within the family home.

Mencap approaches these issues with responsibility for some 3,300 people with learning disabilities in some 550 homes, and also as an advocate for the far larger number of people supported by other agencies or by their families.

Dr Brook is right that independent inspection would strengthen present safeguards. We would also advocate better training and vetting of staff - the recent Police Act, which was prompted by Mencap (among others), has opened the way. Most importantly, we advocate the growth of small community homes, including those owned by the residents, which are genuinely integrated into local communities, with local people looking out for their neighbours.

We also need a police and court system which will more readily bring to book those who, in whatever setting, are responsible for the emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse of people with learning difficulties. That there was first cause for concern in 1991 and a verdict was only reached in 1997 says much for the persistence of some of those concerned to secure justice - but very little for the system, which seems to impede rather than further justice.


Mencap Special Adviser

London EC1