Families have reacted with shock to the news that Mendip House, a care home in Somerset run by the National Autistic Society (NAS), has been fined just £4,000 for incidents that are being compared to the abuse recorded by Panorama at Winterbourne View a decade ago.

Six staff at Winterbourne View were issued prison sentences for their role in a scandal that rocked the care sector.

The Care Quality Commission last week recognised several incidents involving staff and residents at Mendip House, highlighted last year in a report issued by a Somerset safeguarding authority.  

Workers at the home were found to have thrown objects at residents, and forced individuals to eat food against the will to avoid being sent to their rooms as a punishment.

A whistleblower claimed that one resident was slapped and repeatedly thrown into a swimming pool.

The fine itself is for one specific charge, that of compelling residents to pay for staff meals at restaurant outings.

Response

The Care Quality Commission has confirmed it is not looking to prosecute the National Autistic Society, despite it holding those powers.

Barbara Keeley, the shadow minister for social care, has written to  the regulators to convey the dismay expressed by families at the sanction that has been settled upon.

"People are very angry and disturbed about this," Ms Keeley said. "People with autistic children are horrified there has been no prosecution."

"The National Autistic Society has an income of over £50m in relation to social care services. Your fine represents 0.1% of this income, equivalent to only one or two weeks’ fees for one of the individuals formerly resident in Mendip House."

"Given the scale of the problem encountered in Mendip House, many interested parties will feel that a fine of this size does not recognise the reality of the situation."

Richard Humphries, a senior fellow for social care policy at the King’s Fund thinktank, said: "Reducing abuse to the status of a parking ticket and we wonder why social care has an image problem."

Ian Birrell, a campaigner who's daughter has a learning disability, described the case as "dismal and depressing" in visceral piece for I News this week.

"These events at Mendip House in Somerset were the most disturbing such abuse to emerge since the scandal of Winterbourne View was exposed," Mr Birrell added. "Yet again we see how people with autism and learning disabilities are taunted, teased and tormented in a society that has so little sympathy for its most excluded minority."

The CQC's interim chief inspector of social care, Debbie Westhead, said: "We investigated whether we could prosecute the National Autistic Society for failing to keep people safe, but were not able to do so due to insufficient evidence."

"The descriptions of abuse at Mendip House are extremely distressing and the final decision not to proceed with the prosecution was a complex and difficult one."

"Separately, the police explored the possibility of criminal prosecutions against individuals but were also unable to proceed due to lack of corroborating evidence."

"The action that we were able to take was a fixed penalty notice against the provider for failing to protect people from financial abuse, resulting in a fine of £4,000, which is the maximum amount allowed in law."

Mark Lever, the NAS’s chief executive, said: "What happened at Mendip House was appalling. We should not have allowed this mistreatment and abuse to happen. We’re deeply sorry that it did and, alongside regulators, local authorities and other agencies we are responsible for doing all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again."