Letter: How best to protect the rights of the mentally handicapped in care and in the community

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am writing in response to your stories (reports, 16 and 17 September; leading article 17 September) about a confidential report by Buckinghamshire County Council's social services inspection unit into allegations of mistreatment of residents at two private residential homes.

Like everyone else, I have been appalled by the allegations contained in the report, and I fully understand the strength of feeling which lies behind your extensive coverage. However, parts of it were misleading.

You refer to 'The report Buckinghamshire tried to suppress'. The report was confidential not because we wished to suppress it, but for legal reasons. We sent copies of it to all local authorities who had placed residents at the homes. We also sent a copy to the Social Services Inspectorate. Surely this cannot fairly be described as suppression.

You quote an unnamed source at Richmond social services as saying that they were 'still trying to get information out of Buckinghamshire'. This surprised us since all the authorities involved were kept informed as the investigation developed and sent a copy of the report. At least two other authorities have made statements saying they have been kept fully informed throughout.

You said in your leading article that we have ruled out closure of the homes on the grounds that such action would be strongly contested at great financial cost in the courts. That is simply not correct. The argument about cost was not put forward by the Director of Social Services in her covering report. Nor was it the basis on which our Casework Sub-Committee took the decision. The Director's report - like all reports to our committees - included a financial appraisal. The words quoted by you on Saturday - 'Further direct costs would accrue from any formal action' - was a statement of fact. The Director did not raise cost as a significant factor in the main part of her report.

I can categorically state, as the person who chaired the meeting of the sub-committee, that the cost of action was not the reason for our decision. Legal advice was that an application for urgent cancellation of the homes' registration would not have succeeded, particularly because of changes in the homes' management.

We spent a great deal of time considering whether to propose cancellation of the homes' registration. The company would undoubtedly have required a full hearing of the case for cancellation and would then have been able to appeal to an independent tribunal against any decision. All of that could have taken many months, during which there might well have been no changes to the running of the homes.

We were faced with a stark choice - should we pursue action to close down the homes, or act to achieve the swiftest possible improvements for the residents? The sub-committee decided it must act in the interests of the residents. By acting this way we secured immediate improvements.

You also suggest that a former member of staff made allegations to the Buckinghamshire social services department which were not acted upon. In late 1992/early 1993 our inspection unit received a number of anonymous telephone calls voicing concern about residents' welfare. The callers were so unwilling to be identified they refused to meet our inspectors. Our inspection unit passed on the information to the police who felt unable to act.

It was months later that witnesses came forward who were prepared to give statements. This information was passed to police and it was agreed that they would conduct an investigation. After three months the police decided they did not have enough evidence to proceed further.

I repeat that the prime concern of county council members and social services staff was the care and welfare of the residents and what was in their best interests.

Yours faithfully,



Social Services Committee

Buckinghamshire County Council