The treatment of vulnerable people in care continues to dominate the media headlines. The latest shocking case involved young people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View, a residential home in Bristol.

An undercover reporter from the BBC’s Panorama (31.05.2011) filmed patients being dowsed in cold water and repeatedly taunted by their so called carers. One expert interviewed on the programme, described this behaviour as amounting to “torture”.

The home owners, Castlebeck have apologised and suspended 13 employees. The home itself has now been closed. What makes this case even more appalling is that there were warnings from a former member of staff which were ignored. Mr Bryan, a nurse, reported his concerns to both the management at Winterbourne View and to the regulatory body, The Quality Care Commission (QCC) but his complaints were not taken up.

Castlebeck charge the taxpayer on average £3,500.00 for each patient per week and has an annual turnover of £90m. To his credit, their Chief Executive, Lee Reed told Panorama that he was “ashamed” by what had happened.

One of the contributing factors towards this behaviour was the boredom of the staff and the very few activities which were being arranged for the young people to do during the day. They were simply left to sit in a large day room with the TV on without any sort of stimulation. For amusement, their carers started to pick on them. One wonders where the management were to stop this from happening.

One also has to question the effectiveness of the QCC. Why don’t they carry out unannounced inspections on a regular basis to check on staff members in these homes and to ensure that patients are given daily activities to do.

Another major story in the news concerns Southern Cross, a private care company, who may now be forced to close some of their homes due to their precarious financial situation. This is a great worry to their elderly residents and families. This situation has only arisen due to the greed of its earlier owners.

In an age where we all have human rights and minimum safeguards both at work or as consumers, we seem to have overlooked the most vulnerable people in our society. We should do all within our power to drive up standards of care at nursing and residential homes to ensure that people in their care do not have to go through any additional or unnecessary stress or worry. How we treat the most vulnerable people in our community reflects on all of us.



A workplace death in 2008 has led to the first conviction of a company under the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

Alexander Wright, who was only 27 at the time of his death, was investigating soil conditions in a pit when it collapsed, killing him. In the first successful prosecution under the Act, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was found guilty of corporate manslaughter over his death. The company was fined £385,000.00 which it has the option of paying over a 10 year period due to its present financial position. Charges against the company’s managing director were dropped in October last year owing to his ill health.

The Act was passed to make it easier to prosecute companies over health and safety breaches resulting in fatalities. Previously, it was necessary to identify a “controlling mind” within the company namely an individual who was responsible for the health and safety breach which led to a person’s death. This was almost impossible to establish especially where a company had a complex management structure, for example, as we saw in the Hatfield train crash.

This case involved a small company where executives’ responsibility was easier to establish. It seems that the director who could not be prosecuted due to his ill health was in substance “the company”. It remains to be seen how effective the Act will be in prosecutions of larger and more complex companies.


Too many laws

Judges often complain about the number of new laws being churned out these days, and figures compiled by legal publisher Sweet & Maxwell show why.

In 2010, 14 new laws were passed for every working day, more than in any other year. In total 3,506 laws were passed, partly because of the previous government pushing through measures before the general election.

This compares to an average of 1,724 laws passed per year under Margaret Thatcher. Life must have been simpler then (though it didn’t feel like it).