Caregivers risk prison for ill-treatment

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A VIDEO showing a resident of a Forest Care Home screaming in pain after limpets were placed on his bare back was shown to a Crown Court judge.

After viewing the clip, Judge Ian Lawrie QC warned three former Longhope House workers they risk jail for degrading and humiliating their 54-year-old victim, who is deaf and has learning difficulties.

Judge Lawrie told Sean Watkins, of Ridgewalk, Ruardean Hill, Laura Paul of Meadow Walk, Solomon’s Tump, Huntley and Daniel Gower, of Wellington Parade, Gloucester: “It’s about as bad as it gets in terms of bad treatment and humiliation.”

When they appeared before him on Friday January 14, Judge Lawrie told them “in all likelihood” they would go to jail but he had not decided for how long.

Paul, 29, Watkins and Gower, both 23, all pleaded guilty to abusing an individual while working as a carer and were due to be sentenced today (Wednesday).

The charge stems from ‘sadistic’ incidents that occurred when the three men took ‘Michael’ on holiday to Bideford, North Devon, in 2018.

Prosecutor Giles Nelson explained that Michael is profoundly deaf and suffers from epilepsy, anxiety and has moderate learning difficulties.

He needs round-the-clock care and is prescribed various medications to combat the heightened effect of tension and stress.

Michael was being cared for at Brook Lodge, a center which provides support for people with behavioral problems and learning disabilities.

Mr Nelson said: ‘Every year a service user, as residents of the care home are described, is taken on holiday for a change of scenery. Michael was taken to a country barn near Bideford by Gower, Paul and Watkins in September 2018.

“But when they returned to the lodge six days later, Amy McGregor, a night attendant, noticed a distinct change in Michael’s personality. She described him as upset and very angry.

Michael told his caregivers at home what happened in a short handwritten note.

“She raised her concerns with Gower and he said three carers had gotten drunk and had been mean to Michael.

“Gower confessed to Ms McGregor that they barricaded Michael in his room and put a bucket on his head. He then sent Ms McGregor a video of Michael in an uncompromising position on the beach.

“Watkins also admitted his involvement with Ms McGregor and showed her a photo of Martin wearing the bucket on his head and having clothespins attached to his top.

The pair, who were fired in November 2018, admitted to nursing home management that they had been drinking and put the clothespins on Michael’s back as a joke.

Paul refused to attend meetings with management and resigned the same month. In an interview with police, she said ‘they just laughed and blamed the other two for being behind the pranks. She said she had to step in when she felt things were getting out of hand .

Paul also blamed Michael’s behavior during the trip and admitted to taking a picture of Michael suffering from incontinence.

Watkins admitted during his interview with police that he placed 10 clips on Michael’s clothing. He also admitted that he made Michael carry a bucket on his head for a little fun. He said things got out of hand when they rearranged his furniture in his bedroom, but denied barricading it.

The video with the limpets incident also showed Michael being humiliated when he was incontinent

Judge Lawrie said: “The impact on Michael obviously had a psychological impact on him. Watching him scream when limpets were placed on his back was very distressing.

Mr Nelson concluded: ‘This is a driving course of multiple incidents of wanton derogation and sadistic behavior in which they deliberately showed disregard for the welfare of the victim. They had a professional responsibility to protect him. On any decent and humane level, their actions were appalling.

Rejecting an argument by Lloyd Jenkins, for Gower, that the case should have been heard by magistrates, Judge Lawrie said: ‘To me, this behavior goes beyond the custodial threshold and the judges would not have the powers to appropriate condemnation. It’s an abuse of someone that the defendants are caring for.

“The public interest is towards a person, who is very vulnerable, and who is in the care of others. It was psychologically and harmful to Michael. I suspect that what we have been told is only the tip of the iceberg.

The maximum sentence that can be imposed by the magistrates’ court is six months in prison.

Mr Jenkins added: “Gower admits he was mean to Michael. He states that the incident happened over three years ago and he matured during that time.

“There is no doubt that the behavior of the three defendants was callous and inappropriate. No attempt was made to downplay the seriousness of the situation. It was a short-lived episode during a vacation.

“Gower has not reoffended since that incident. He struggled to get his life back on track after losing his job. He suffers from anxiety and has lost his self-esteem.

Sarah Jenkins, for Watkins, said: “There is no problem in saying that the videos were humiliating and degrading. Michael was not assaulted over the holidays, but it is admitted that he suffered emotionally.

“On reflection, this short stay in Devon soon became a toxic environment. They have since realized that their behavior was not acceptable.

“Watkins was only 19 at the time and had only been in the role for less than six months. It was on-the-job training. He was not effectively equipped for the role. This episode has effectively ruined his caring career.

“He also showed a lack of maturity and suffered from a lack of experience in the workplace.

“Watkins is now working in a different career and has proven he can work in a different field without any issues.”

Charley Pattison for Paul said: ‘She elected the trial from the Crown Court to the lower court. Paul was cleared of any wrongdoing following an internal investigation into the incident at the care home.

“Paul was the eldest of the three and she had only been in the job a few months longer than Watkins and Gower. She herself was still gaining experience with on-the-job training.

“His view was that this long weekend had gone badly and that his own mental health was no longer able to take care of others.

“Paul fully accepts that this was appalling behaviour, something she deeply regrets and in the cold light of the day she made poor judgments in a professional situation and she should have known better.

“Paul showed remorse and wrote to Michael expressing his regret.”

Gower, Watkins and Paul pleaded guilty to being in the position of carer abused an individual between September 27 and October 2, 2018 in Bideford in North Devon.

Judge Lawrie said: ‘This is about as bad as it gets in terms of abuse and humiliation.

“The three of them have been given a specific function by giving Michael a vacation. Whatever the absence from training, it is conspicuous by its absence on more than one occasion.

“However, I am not imposing a sentence at this late stage as I do not want to rush my sentencing decisions. I suggest that the three defendants get their affairs in order over the weekend as a sentence custodial is the most likely outcome.

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