Four staff members at the Winterbourne View care home on the outskirts of Bristol have been arrested after a BBC Panorama documentary last night alleged carers routinely abused vulnerable adults with learning difficulties.
Winterbourne View, near Bradley Stoke, treats people with learning disabilities and autism. The hospital’s owners, Castlebeck, have apologised unreservedly and suspended 13 employees.
Avon and Somerset police confirmed that three men and one woman had been arrested as part of their ongoing investigation into the hospital.
The documentary by an undercover reporter showed staff encouraging patients to commit suicide, punching them, forcing them to have cold showers and pinning them to the ground with chairs.
The investigation also found that a whistle-blower had previously reported abuse to both managers at the home and the Care Quality Commission, the official watchdog. Both failed to act.
Reporter Joe Casey spent five weeks filming undercover in the private care hospital – which charges £3,500 to look after each patient each week – after getting a job as a support worker.
“My experience at Winterbourne View will stay with me for a very long time,” he wrote on the BBC website. “The hitting, slapping, bullying, dousing with water, cruel and often pointless use of physical restraint on people – many with a child-like understanding of the world – all happened in front of my eyes.
“On a near-daily basis, I watched as some of the very people entrusted with the care of society’s most vulnerable targeted patients – often, it seemed, for their own amusement. They are scenes of torment that are not easily forgotten.
“The targets had no way of defending themselves or speaking out. Anyone who questioned the abuse met a wall of silence.”
Professor Jim Mansell, the author of the government’s policy on disability care, said: “The staff don’t think that these are human beings just like them otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing. This is the worst kind of institutional care, it’s the kind of thing that was prevalent in the 60s.”
Terry Bryan, the whistle-blower who previously worked as a senior nurse at the home, said: “These are all people who have got families. Nobody gets to see what goes on in there. They’d be horrified if they knew.”
Following the programme, Lee Reed, chief executive of Castlebeck, said: “What should have happened at the time was the staff named in those allegations that the former employee made should have been suspended, but they weren’t.”
Castlebeck was founded in 1987 and offers specialist healthcare and rehabilitation to vulnerable people, including men and women with autism, learning disabilities, behavioural and mental health problems.
It employs 2,100 people, providing care for 580 service users at 56 facilities nationwide.
Avon and Somerset Police confirmed this morning that three men aged 42, 30 and 25 and a woman aged 24 have been arrested on suspicion of assault/mistreatment of patients under the Mental Capacity Act. All four have been released on police bail, pending further enquiries.