Police have arrested 7 care workers from the Veilstone Care Home in Bideford in Devon over alleged abuse of people with learning disabilities.

Allegations include residents apparently being locked in an unheated 'quiet room' overnight and, according to the solicitor acting for some of the residents, could be one of the worst incidents of abuse of vulnerable adults in residential care.

Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that 7 people have been arrested. Three of those are from Teignmouth – 2 men aged 67 and 39 and a woman aged 26. The remainder, a 42 year-old man, a 38 year-old man and two women aged 24 and 28 are from Bideford.

All 7 were arrested in relation to offences under the Mental Health Act regarding ill treatment and abuse and were taken into police custody for questioning. They have all been released on police bail until March while investigations continue.

Devon and Cornwall Police launched the investigation in November 2011 after reports that vulnerable adults were being poorly treated.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) also carried out unannounced visits to Veilstone and issued its owners, Atlas Project Team Ltd, with a formal warning for failing to meet welfare standards.

They raised concerns about a 'quiet room' where residents spent time or slept overnight, while being monitored by a surveillance camera, describing it as 'unsuitable'.

The report states how care workers told inspectors residents were “verbally prompted or physically assisted” into the room.

Inspectors discovered the unheated room contained nothing more than an armchair, an air mattress and a security camera.

The report states: “The window was locked, so there was no ventilation in the room if the door was closed, and there was no curtain or other window covering to promote privacy (the room is on the ground floor and can easily be looked into).

“We were told by the manager that the "quiet room" was used as a place for people to relax but it had no features of a relaxing, calming nature, as it lacked any form of stimuli and was stark and cold.”

In addition, one of the residents who allegedly faced abuse at Veilstone had also been a resident at Winterbourne View in Bristol, where a BBC Panorama programme exposed abuse in 2011 and 11 people received prison sentences for abuse.

One of the worst incidents of abuse

Alison Millar a specialist lawyer in abuse claims from law firm Leigh Day, said: “The allegations we have heard make us believe this could be one of the worst incidents of abuse towards vulnerable adults in residential care and, moreover, that the abuse at Winterbourne View… was not just an isolated occurrence but a symptom of a more systematic problem in the care sector.

“We would encourage anyone with further information on the homes to come forward and speak to the police to assist the on-going investigation.”

The investigation is part of Operation Baddeck, a multi-agency safeguarding investigation involving Devon County Council, NHS Devon, Devon Partnership Trust, Devon and Cornwall Police, the Care Quality Commission and other local authorities and NHS services, which began investigating all homes under the management of Atlas Project Team Ltd. The company is no longer in existence.

Detective Inspector Steve White said: “Throughout the investigation the safety, welfare and protection of vulnerable adults has been and remains the absolute priority of all the organisations involved. Due to the nature of the enquiry and complex needs of the victims this investigation will take many months. Throughout this time the police will continue to work closely with all agencies involved and the victims and families of those affected will receive on-going support.”

Appalling allegations

In a joint statement, Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap and Vivien Cooper OBE, chief executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, said they were “appalled” by the allegations.
“Many people believed that the scandal at Winterbourne View was a one-off, but there are strong indications that the abuse of vulnerable people is more widespread.

“It is of profound concern to us that the allegations of abuse include a resident who had already faced abuse at another institution. This represents a shocking failure to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

"Questions need to be answered about how a person could be abused in one service and then moved to another, where serious concerns have emerged – and the role of the care home, commissioner and CQC in this. Everything must be done to prevent abuse and when it is suspected, immediate action must be taken.

“Together we are calling on the Government to deliver on their commitment to strengthen corporate accountability and ensure Directors in charge of care homes and hospitals where vulnerable people face abuse and neglect are held personally and criminally responsible for these horrific failures. This would send a clear message that abuse and neglect will not be tolerated in our society and all those involved – from frontline staff to the board room – will be held to account.”