Winterbourne View: lessons for children’s institutions

With the news that BBC Panorama plans to broadcast its programme on Medway secure training centre* this coming Monday (11th January), it’s worth reflecting on an earlier investigation into abusive restraint and other cruelty. Depending on the content of the programme, of course, might we expect the same level of concern and action for children?

Winterbourne View was a private hospital, near Bristol, for 24 adults with learning disabilities. Its owner, Castlebeck Ltd, charged £3,500 a week for each patient, irrespective of their individual needs.

Covert filming
An undercover reporter filmed covertly at the hospital, after the complaints of a senior nurse had been ignored. The BBC reports:

“During five weeks spent filming undercover, Panorama’s reporter captured footage of some of the hospital’s most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased.”

“Undercover care: the abuse exposed” was aired on 31 May 2011.

Vulnerable individuals
A serious case review commissioned by South Glocestershire Safeguarding Adults Board interviewed five former patients of Winterbourne View, finding they had previously lived in residential special schools, children’s hospitals and foster care.

Simone was one of the young adults who featured prominently in the Panorama programme. Simone lived at home until she was 17, after which she began having very distressing headaches which affected her behaviour. In the second hospital she was placed, Simone’s parents were not allowed to stay: Mencap reports Simone “was so frightened that she broke a bed, and when moved to a side ward, she tore the basin off the wall”. She was moved two more times, before arriving at Winterbourne View.

Aged 18 at the time, Simone was shown on the Panorama film being viciously abused by a member of staff, Wayne Rogers. Rogers was seen pinning Simone under a chair, slapping her and twisting her wrist and pinning it to the ground. He taunted and humiliated her.

Prison links 
Rogers was found to be the ringleader of the abuse at Winterbourne, and boasted to colleagues about previously winding up children, before restraining them, during his time working in a young offender institution. He was given a two-year custodial sentence after admitting nine counts of ill-treatment.

Eleven members of staff were sentenced for cruelty to adults living at Winterbourne View, six receiving jail terms. Two of the 11 had formerly worked for the prison service – Wayne Rogers and Jason Gardiner, who had been a prison officer for 11 years.

Hospital closure
Winterbourne View closed on 24 June 2011, less than a month after the Panorama programme was screened.

Reactions to Panorama exposé
There was widespread public shock and condemnation of the abuse exposed by Panorama, and a great deal of action was taken by local and national agencies to strengthen the rights and protection of people with learning disabilities in residential care.

Legislation was introduced in 2014 which extended local authorities’ duties to arrange independent advocates for individuals suffering, or at risk of, abuse or neglect. Government restraint guidance issued to adult health and care settings that same year established that restraint should be used only to prevent harm to human beings (and there must be a real possibility of such harm); and no planned or intentional restraint must involve a person’s face being held/pressed to the floor or any other surface.  At the end of 2015, the government promised more action on a Charter of Rights, to make sure people know about their rights and how to access support.

Some notable reactions at the time from government, politicians and concerned individuals and organisations are summarised below.

Government & opposition
The day after the Winterbourne View programme aired, the government minister then responsible for care services, Paul Burstow MP, said:

“The abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View uncovered by Panorama is shocking. There can be no place for such inhumanity in care services.

“There have been failures of inspection and adult protection which have exposed people to appalling abuse.

“I am determined to strengthen the system of safeguarding to protect vulnerable adults from abuse.”

Days later, the then shadow health minister, Emily Thornberry MP, asked an urgent question in Parliament and pressed for an independent inquiry.

Local MP
Jack Lopresti, the local Conservative MP, called for the hospital’s closure and an independent inquiry:

“I will be meeting with the chief executive of Castlebeck shortly to suggest that the company permanently closes Winterbourne View at the earliest opportunity.

“I am also calling for an independent inquiry into why such serious failures occurred and what lessons can be learnt to ensure the abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital never happens again.

“I believe that a truly independent inquiry is needed to restore the public faith in the care system.”

Concerned individuals & organisations
The chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities wrote in the Guardian newspaper the day after the programme was broadcast. The charity urged a government review of legislation and inspection, and “a thorough police inquiry into the actions of the individuals and the organisation involved”. The chief executive of Mencap was asked to assist the Department of Health in reviewing the evidence of abuse collated by the Care Quality Commission (responsible for regulation and inspection of private hospitals) and local councils.

A letter was sent to the Prime Minister three weeks after Panorama aired, from 86 concerned individuals and organisations. It gave detailed advice on the actions required by local and national agencies to protect the rights of people with learning disabilities.

Conclusions of serious case review
The serious case review for South Glocestershire Safeguarding Adults Board was given a wide remit, though it was restricted to the time period 2008-2011. Its 150+ page report sums up the great risk of single agencies never seeing the full scale of institutional abuse:

“The review has demonstrated that the apparatus of oversight was unequal to the task of uncovering the fact and extent of institutional abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital. Taken section by section, this Serious Case Review builds a bleak collage of the phenomenon of institutional abuse. That the whole is greater than the individual sections is no cliché.”

It is difficult to gain a full picture, over time, of individuals’ care and treatment in institutions “when information about concerns, alerts, complaints, allegations and notifications are either unknown or scattered across agencies”, the review concluded.

TEENAGE PRISON ABUSE EXPOSED will be broadcast on BBC One on Monday 11 January, 20.30.

*Medway secure training centre is a prison for children aged 12 to 17. It is run by G4S under a government contract.