Nine care workers accused of ‘cruel and abusive acts’ against residents after Panorama exposé, court hears

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Three women and six men, aged 25-54, are being prosecuted after a reporter went undercover and filmed the behavior for a BBC Panorama documentary in Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle.

In 2018, a series of whistleblowers approached BBC Panorama, complaining about the culture, attitude and behaviour of a group of care workers in the hospital for vulnerable adults.

Whorlton Hall, which was privately-run but NHS-funded, had at one time been owned by the same company as Winterbourne View, a residential care home near Bristol in which Panorama gained undercover footage of residents being slapped and restrained under chairs, having their hair pulled and being held down as medication was forced into their mouths.

The nine Whorlton Hall care workers are facing trial for verbally abusing, neglecting and antagonising extremely vulnerable patients in care.

Opening the case at Teeside crown court in Middlesbrough, the prosecuting barrister, Anne Richardson, said the patients all resided at Whorlton Hall, a 17-bed independent specialist hospital unit near Barnard Castle, County Durham, operated by Cygnet Health Care.

All patients were detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. “They all had extremely complex needs and it is highly unlikely that any would be able to live independently, even with a raft of appropriate support.”

Richardson said the jury would hear evidence of ill-treatment that was “cruel and abusive”. And that was “not only devoid of the respect and kindness that those residents deserved, but was also a criminal offence.”

The undercover footage includes one care worker, Niall Mellor, describing a patient as a ‘retard’ and that “the residents are cunts who do not deserve good treatment.”

One patient disliked balloons, prosecutors allege that Peter Bennett, a care worker, twanged a balloon in the patient’s room and asked her if she liked balloons before describing different coloured ones.

Richardson said Bennet was “someone within the home who liked to show off to other staff members” who would, in turn, copy his behaviour.

Richardson said no one was being accused of physical abuse and not all of the defendants were equally culpable.

Another care worker, Ryan Fuller, offered chewing gum to members of staff that were restraining a resident and the court heard how he also mocked a patient who wore glasses.

Richardson said there must have been times when the care workers’ patience was “sorely stretched” as they listened to a patient endlessly scream or repeat the same words, or call them derogatory names.

“The crown, whilst recognizing that, submits that the solution was not to name call in return, or to wind up patients whose trigger and flash points were well known. To do so went beyond simply being mean and verbally abusive to the residents and became a criminal offence.”

The nine care workers have all pleaded not guilty to charges of ill-treatment or willful neglect of an individual by a care worker. The accused are:

John Sanderson, 25, of Willington; Darren Lawton, 47, of Darlington; Niall Mellor, 26, of Bishop Auckland; Sarah Banner, 33, of New Aycliffe: Matthew Banner, 43, of Newton Aycliffe; Ryan Fuller, 27, of Barnard Castle; Sabah Mahmoon, 27, of Kelloe; Peter Bennet, 53, of Billingham; and Karen McGhee, 54, from Darlington.

The trial is currently ongoing.