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Four guilty of ill-treating hospital patients at secure hospital Whorlton Hall.


Four carers have been found guilty of ill-treating patients at a secure hospital, following a BBC Panorama investigation.

Nine former staff at Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, had faced a total of 27 charges. Five of those on trial were cleared.

Jurors heard vulnerable patients were mocked and treated with "contempt". Lawyers for the defendants argued their clients had been doing their best in very challenging circumstances.

The men found guilty have been bailed and will be sentenced at Teesside Crown Court in July.

The specialist hospital for people with complex needs, who required 24-hour-care, was privately run by Cygnet but funded by the NHS.

Panorama sent undercover reporter, Olivia Davies, to work shifts at the 17-bed unit for two months between December 2018 and February 2019.

Durham Constabulary subsequently launched an investigation and within two days of the programme going on air 10 carers were arrested.

Durham Constabulary said its major crime team worked through months of hidden camera footage, as well as significant amounts of documentary records and witness evidence.

Whorlton Hall was closed shortly after the documentary was broadcast.

Jurors at Teesside Crown Court, delivered the various verdicts after two days of deliberation.

Peter Bennett, 53, of Redworth Close in Billingham, Teesside, was found guilty of two charges and cleared of one.

Matthew Banner, 43, of Faulkner Road, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, was found guilty on five counts and cleared of one.

Ryan Fuller, 27, of Deerbolt Bank in Barnard Castle was found guilty of two counts but cleared of eight.

John Sanderson, 25, of Cambridge Avenue, Willington, County Durham, was found guilty of one count but cleared of another.

Karen McGhee, Darren Lawton, Sabah Mahmood, Niall Mellor and Sara Banner - Matthew Banner's wife - were cleared of all charges.

Bennett was convicted for "deliberately referencing and snapping balloons" in the presence of a female patient who did not like them and "mocking" another's communication difficulties by talking to her in French.

Matthew Banner was guilty of ill-treating the same patient, who preferred female carers, by "threatening" that men would be sent to her room and making repeated references to balloons.

Sanderson was found guilty of threatening a male patient with violence and "goading him to fight".

Fuller was guilty of instructing another male patient to lie on the floor to demonstrate a restraint and then simulating an assault by pretending to perform an "elbow drop" wrestling move from a chair.

He was also found guilty of "antagonising" another male patient and "encouraging" him to fight.

After the verdicts, a barrister with the Crown Prosecution Service, Christopher Atkinson, said the four men had a "duty of care for patients who, due to significant mental health issues, were wholly dependent on their support every day of their lives".

He said it was "clear" there were times when the care provided was "not only devoid of the appropriate respect and kindness required but also crossed the line into criminal offending.”

Head of policy at disability charity Mencap, Dan Scorer,  said: "No-one who has seen the footage and read about the charges in this case can feel anything other than horror and disgust.

"Learning disabilities and autism are not conditions that can be 'treated', yet the NHS and the government continue to fund private care facilities like Whorlton Hall.

"This distressing case represents another abject failure, and we cannot allow any more people to lose years of their lives to this abusive system."

NHS North East and Yorkshire described the events at Whorton Hall as "terrible" and "shocking". A spokesperson said the NHS "took immediate action by closing the Cygnet unit as soon as concerns were raised.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: "The verdicts reflect a terrible set of events that should never have happened and we do not want to see happening again. We will review the verdicts in detail, along with the safeguarding adult review when it is completed, to consider any further action.