The investigation led to 24 people being charged with various offences and 13 people being convicted – including director level staff.
Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have been supporting families of victims involved, whilst working closely with Devon and Cornwall Police throughout the investigation.
The abuse took place at two care homes run by Atlas Care Homes (no longer operating) which were Veilstone in Bideford and Gatooma in Holsworthy.
Jan Tregelles, Chief Executive of Mencap, and Vivien Cooper, Chief Executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, commented:
Throughout the three trials last year, juries have listened to horrific accounts of people with a learning disability being abused by those who were being paid to support them. The evidence that has emerged has been chilling. The survivors and their family members have been brave and dignified throughout the five year build up to these trials and 11 months of legal proceedings.
Atlas Project Team claimed to provide specialist care for people with a learning disability, at a cost of up to £4,000 per week per person. Staff were paid to care for people with a learning disability but instead of doing so imprisoned them repeatedly for long periods, often in cold rooms with no sanitation. Despite several warning signs, it took far too long for the abusive practices at the care homes to be exposed. Poor commissioning by a number of local authorities and weak inspection allowed an abusive culture to develop and sustain itself with devastating consequences for individuals and their families.
People with a learning disability abused in Atlas' services, and their families, have waited more than five years for justice. Devon and Cornwall Police must be commended for their work to ensure this case came to court.
These trials have brought into sharp focus the unacceptable attitudes and lack of respect for people with a learning disability that exists in society. Across the country thousands of people with a learning disability, autism and behaviour that challenges are still subject to unacceptable practices, including the use of dangerous restraint techniques, the administration of anti-psychotic medication when they don’t have a mental illness and the use of solitary confinement. This environment, which enables commissioners to spend thousands of pounds per week of public money on the wrong type of services with no accountability, must change.
Alison Millar from law firm Leigh Day who is representing several of the former residents of the Devon care homes, one of whom was also a victim of abuse at Winterbourne View before being placed at Veilstone and suffering further abuse, said:
We believe this is a significant verdict for the future welfare of people in residential care.
These criminal court proceedings against Atlas Projects Ltd founder Paul Hewitt and Atlas managers and employees underline the legal responsibilities those who manage and profit from care facilities have for the physical and psychological well-being of their residents.
It also highlights the responsibility of those public bodies who failed these vulnerable individuals by not commissioning appropriate facilities and therefore should retain responsibility for the services they have contracted out.
These verdicts against the owners and managers of Atlas Projects Ltd and those they employed, are a reminder that Health and Safety legislation protects the rights of the most vulnerable and we would call on the Government to ensure that more is done to strengthen such safeguards.
For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org or for out of hours 07770 656 659.
Notes to editors
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact the Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email email@example.com.
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.
Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.