Winterbourne View Sentencing Final Day
October 26, 2012 5 Comments
Well despite my best efforts I was not able to view today’s sentencing hearing in the Winterbourne trial as all public seating was largely reserved for victim and defendant families and the press, leaving other members of the public unable to attend. Not sure why Bristol Crown Court didn’t hold the hearing in a larger court room with more seating provision given the high public interest in the case, but no point in worrying about it now. Maybe I could do with finding out how to become a member of the press?
Anyway, as I arrived at court there was already a heavy media presence setting up outside the court entrance. I went in, through the obligatory metal detectors, and took the lift to the 4th floor where court 7 is located. According to the court listings for today there were a few other sentencing hearings to deal with first. However for some reason court 7 opened at 9.30 with the Winterbourne hearing, and as I had turned up a few minutes after half past 9 thinking the hearing wouldn’t yet have started, I was surprised to find the court full for Winterbourne and Winterbourne only. I had a quick look around the court, noticed all of the defendants in the dock, and was then asked to leave by the police as there was no seating left for the general public, and of course I had to say no when asked if I was with the press, as I am not. Yet.
A few minutes later along with the growing crowd outside the courtroom door we were informed with some finality by the usher that there were no seats available, and that if anyone did leave their seats she would allow us in on a one out one in basis. I didn’t think there was much chance of this but did hang around for ten minutes before heading back out as there was no point in staring at a soundproof door. So I headed off back home to watch out for news of the sentencing leaking out (which I imagined wouldn’t be long given that some in the public galleries were typing away on concealed blackberries or iPhone’s on Monday, a fact I took notice of after Recorder of Bristol Judge Neil Ford QC mentioned that his permission would be required before allowing mobile communications to be used. No one then asked for permission, but the phones were still being used under the desk, including by a few who didn’t switch off the ringer allowing the familiar Apple iPhone message tone to be heard at periodic intervals).
Eventually news appeared earlier today with the breakdown of sentencing as follows:
- Wayne Rogers, widely acknowledged as ringleader of the abuse in question received a 2 year jail sentence.
- Graham Doyle and Alison Dove were jailed for 20 months for 7 counts of abuse each;
- Holly Laura Draper was jailed for 12 months for 2 counts of abuse;
- Nurses Kelvin Fore and Sookalingum Appoo were jailed for 6 months for wilfully neglect of patients;
- Daniel Brake and Michael Ezenagu who each admitted 2 counts of abuse received 6 month jail sentences suspended for 2 years and must each undertake 200 hours unpaid work;
- Neil Ferguson who admitted 1 count of abuse received a 6 month jail sentence suspended for 2 years and must undertake 200 hours unpaid work;
- Charlotte Justine Cotterell who admitted 1 counts of abuse received a 4 month jail sentence suspended for 2 years, must undertake 150 hours unpaid work and complete 12 months supervision;
- Lastly Jason Gardiner who admitted 2 counts of abuse received a 4 month jail sentence suspended for 2 years and must undertake 200 hours unpaid work.
The disturbing aspect of this case over the last week has been the release of facts and news not previously known, particularly that the levels of abuse occurring at Winterbourne were far worse than those shown in the original Panorama undercover broadcast which led to today’s convictions. Examples have included threats of biting a patients face off, and another threat to use a cheese grater on a patients face. In addition the footage of the undercover investigation showed that while Panorama may have informed the public as to the goings on at Winterbourne, the documentary only hinted at the true extent of the abuse and just how sustained it actually was. In one case one police film which lasted about 12 minutes in court was only an excerpt of a film showing near 46 minutes of unjustifiable restraint against one patient.
Efforts have been made by the defence during the week to attribute blame beyond those directly responsible, excuses include pressures of the job and disillusionment being given on Monday on behalf of Wayne Rogers. Watching the films however doesn’t really convey this. Instead what you see is a place of very little comfort or stimulation for residents. Bare empty rooms with simple uncomfortable chairs often being used by the staff themselves. In fact throughout there is very little evidence of high pressure at all, but plenty of a particularly casual atmosphere where staff could afford to engage in sustained abuse for significant periods, though this may simply be due to the selective nature of the evidence. In any event, it is unclear how any pressures of work could lead to employees dishing out the physical abuse, threats, continual swearing and misconduct on display throughout.
I have worked in high pressure jobs myself, yet never felt compelled to take customers out the back and beat them up, douse them with water, restrain them on the floor for three quarters of an hour or under a chair with a blanket held over their head, poke their eyes, pull their hair, kick, punch and humiliate them on a regular basis. No this idea of high pressure and disillusionment as a causal factor was merely a mitigation smokescreen designed to deflect and attribute blame elsewhere.
The truth is, the blame lies with only those who committed the abuse, those who allowed it to happen, from the support staff to the nurses convicted, to the owners, and all the way down the line to the fact that such organisations and staff are apparently allowed to operate without proper regulation and oversight, a fault that lies with local and central government. It is almost certainly true that a culture of accepted abuse grew at the facility, but it is also true that every member of the 11 person dock in Bristol Crown Court was in the position of having been able to do something to stop the abuse taking place. Instead they either wilfully ignored it or actively joined in. How anyone could do so is quite frankly incomprehensible.
It also seems probable now that further police investigations into Winterbourne will take place, particularly in light of the case of Ben Pullar who two years before the Panorama investigation lost two teeth in an ‘incident’ for which there appears no proper explanation. There are claims that abuse in the home was occurring long before the BBC broadcast. If this is the case then little short of a complete and robust investigation of Winterbourne should be carried out and any offences that can be established by evidence must then be prosecuted.
It can only be hoped that today’s outcome will provide some comfort for the victims and their families, but as has been established during the course of the case, many former residents continue to live with the mental and physical scars of their time at Winterbourne. The Government should now take steps to ensure that this kind of torture house never happens again by bringing forth legislative measures to ensure that care homes and their staff are properly regulated and monitored to ensure only that high standards of care, stimulation and living are provided.