The prosecution authorities continue to show a readiness to prosecute cases of neglect or ill-treatment using the specific criminal offences created for that purpose. Three care home workers have just been sentenced in the Crown Court, having pleaded guilty to the ill-treatment or neglect of a person lacking capacity.
The resident’s family had become worried at the care she was receiving and installed hidden cameras in her room. These captured distressing scenes of three carers mocking the resident; mimicking her groaning; laughing at her; and repeatedly asking her if she was “a gypsy witch” and “into black magic”. Understandably her family were outraged and contacted the police. This led to the prosecution of the staff members concerned.
The court imposed high-end community orders on each defendant. They all have to undertake at least 200 hours unpaid work. Two of the defendants were ordered to pay £1,500 each in compensation; the third is now subject to a curfew order from 9pm to 7am.
The court is likely to have refrained from imposing prison sentences for three reasons:
- the fact that the defendants each pleaded guilty;
- that they were of good character before these convictions; and
- that there was no significant physical ill-treatment of the resident.
Previous court cases have seen care workers imprisoned for physical neglect. The maximum sentence is one of five years’ imprisonment.
The consequences for the care home employing the staff were of course significant, as they would be for any organisation facing such an incident involving its staff. Local publicity was appalling (and the matter has now been reported nationally). The home had to cooperate with the police and safeguarding investigations. It self-reported the incidents to the CQC and was then subject to an unannounced inspection, the report concluding that improvements were required in the safety and effectiveness of services provided.
While there is a limit to what any organisation can do to stop illegal behaviour by individual employees, this case underlines the importance of carrying out appropriate pre-employment checks and rapid, pro-active engagement with regulators and prosecutors in the event of serious incidents of criminal behaviour.
Mills & Reeve has a team of experienced regulatory and criminal lawyers with expertise in the health and care sector, as well as an out-of-hours helpline in the event of urgent concerns arising over a weekend or after normal office hours.