Vulnerable care home resident secures ‘landmark’ settlement following ‘regime of abuse’

A vulnerable former care home resident has secured the High Court’s approval of a “landmark” settlement of his legal claim over the abuse he suffered at the hands of staff.

Ben, who has learning disabilities, fell victim to a “regime of abuse and harm” at the Veilstone care home (pictured) in Bideford, Devon, during the 17 months he lived there between 2010 and 2011, his lawyers said.

The now 32-year-old’s mistreatment included being physically restrained, having family visits restricted, belongings removed and being isolated in a window and furniture-less “quiet room” on 117 occasions, a judge was told.

At a hearing in London on Wednesday, Ben Douglas-Jones KC approved the settlement, which includes the payment of a confidential sum of money, and declared that Ben’s human rights were breached while at the home.

Ben, whose family asked for him to be identified only by his first name, reached the settlement with Devon County Council and the Department of Health, which has responsibility over the commissioning of his care.

Adam Weitzman KC, representing the local authority and the Health Secretary, apologised to Ben and his family for the “unacceptable” treatment he received.

Ben’s mother, Claire, secured a payment of £10,000 in a settlement of her separate claim over a breach of her right to family life, due to her inability to see her son while he was at Veilstone.

The settlements come after 13 people were convicted of the “organised and systemic abuse” of disabled residents at Veilstone and the Gatooma care home, in Holsworthy, Devon, in 2010 and 2011.

Directors, managers and staff were convicted of imprisoning disabled adults in empty rooms to punish or control them, it was reported in 2017 following a series of trials at Bristol Crown Court.

The court, which heard evidence from seven victims, was told that an abusive culture developed in which vulnerable residents were left alone for hours on end with little food or water by managers and staff at the homes.

Wednesday’s hearing was told that one person’s conviction had since been overturned following an appeal.

Atlas Project Team, which ran the now closed homes, has since gone into administration, the court was told.

The NHS trust involved in the commissioning of Ben’s care no longer exists, with the Department of Health inheriting legal responsibility for his legal claim.

Jeremy Hyam KC, representing Ben, told the court he had brought a compensation claim for the personal injuries he suffered due to the actions of care home staff, including over his “false imprisonment”.

He said Ben’s “unacceptable” treatment included being locked in the care home’s “quiet home” which was “used as a means of control”.

Mr Hyam said Ben, originally from Devon, had suffered PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result of the abuse, but it was hoped that the settlement would help provide future support.

Mr Weitzman said that the council and Health Secretary accepted as commissioning bodies that “the placement at Veilstone was wholly inadequate in that the staff behaved in a criminal and abusive manner”.

He said the staff’s actions involved “inhuman degrading treatment” and “offered both to Ben and his family a full apology”.

“We recognise that the treatment he received was unacceptable, criminal and in breach of the rights in respect of any person,” Mr Weitzman said.

“We acknowledge Ben’s vulnerability and we acknowledge the significant impact it had upon him because of that vulnerability.”

Mr Douglas-Jones said Ben had faced the “cruel” use of the “quiet room” as a “form of punishment” where he was “unlawfully isolated”.

He said Ben had to sleep on the floor, missed meals and sometimes “would have to spend hours in urine soaked clothes”.

On one occasion he was restrained for over an hour by four members of staff, who also did not intervene to prevent Ben harming himself during times of distress.

Mr Douglas-Jones said no court declaration could “undo the damage done” to Ben, who had faced an “11-year long road” to secure his settlement.

“It has all been born out of cruelty,” he said, adding that Ben’s family had the right to assume that staff were “vocationally invested in the provision of care in an inherently kind way”.

He paid tribute to the family’s “love and support” for Ben, who continues to be cared for and now “feels safe” in his own home.

Ben’s sister, Emma Austin-Garrod, 30, who brought the claim on his behalf, said after the “landmark” settlement was approved that the impact on Ben would “likely be lifelong” but that he could now “move forward with his life”.

She said: “It has taken a long time and has not been easy to reach this point- our family, particularly Ben, is much changed, and traumatised by all that he has experienced in the social care system. A system designed for care, that let him down so badly.

“When the system fails, it is people with learning disabilities and their families who pay a high price, with little or no accountability by those responsible – so the apologies and acknowledgement that breaches of human rights occurred for Ben, and for our mother, are important to us.”

Catriona Rubens, Ben’s solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said: “It is a testament to the tenacity of Ben’s family that the bodies responsible for his placement accept that his rights were breached by the cruel and inhumane regime of care at Veilstone.

“Ben’s mother, Claire, has fought tirelessly for recognition that she was unlawfully deprived of contact with her son, and it is right that the state bodies accept that this breached Claire’s own human right to a family life.

“The rights of learning disabled and autistic people like Ben to live good, fulfilled lives, must be upheld by the state. Ben’s case is a stark reminder of the devastating consequences that occur when institutions fail to uphold human rights protections and ignore the concerns of families.”

In letter to Ben’s family, Devon County Council offered a “full and frank apology” over the abuse he suffered, adding that safeguarding learning disabled and autistic adults was “of utmost importance”.

“In our ongoing role as commissioners, we are committed to learning lessons as a result of the abuse that occurred at Veilstone,” the letter said.

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