Darren Smith Hillcroft Four care workers have been sentenced for abusing elderly residents with dementia at the Lancashire residential care home they worked at.

Darren Smith, Katie Cairns and Carol Moore have all received prison sentenced for their role in the abuse, which occurred at the Hillcroft Nursing Home in Slyne-with-Hest near Lancaster from May 2010 to September 2011. Meanwhile Gemma Pearson was given a 12-month community order and ordered to undertake unpaid work.

The charges related to the mistreatment of 7 men and one woman, all of whom had dementia. The group were found to have abused residents in their care in a number of ways: they mocked them, bullied them and, on occasions, deliberately assaulted them. Most of the neglect and ill-treatment related to instances of throwing bean bags and balls deliberately at the residents.

Smith, 35, from Lancaster, was sentenced to 8 months in prison at Preston Crown Court. He pleaded guilty to 8 offences of being a carer involved in the ill treatment of a person with lack of capacity contrary to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in August last year.

Cairns, Pearson and Moore were all found guilty of offences under the same Act following a trial at Preston Crown Court in November.

Cairns, 27, from Morecambe, was sentenced to five months after being found guilty of three offences. Moore, 54, from Lancaster, who was found guilty of one offence, was sentenced to four months.

Pearson, 28, of Carnforth, was convicted of one offence and made the subject of a 12-month community order and a 12-month supervision requirement. She is also required to carry out 40 hours unpaid work in the community.

Lessons to be learnt

Following the sentencing, a statement was released on behalf of the families: “The investigation and court case have been extremely distressing for us all and we do not take any pleasure in the outcome,” it said.

“There are lessons to be learnt from this case and we are contributing to the on-going Learning Review, which we hope will provide meaningful recommendations and result in changes to the law.

“In the first instance, managers at the home covered up the initial allegations and did not involve the safeguarding authorities when they should have. The directors and management of Hillcroft failed in their basic duty to ensure safe care for residents. We do not feel that the [Care Quality Commission has] held Hillcroft properly to account for these failings.

“Secondly, following the first contact from whistle-blowers, it took an unacceptable length of time for the authorities to involve the police and we hope that those responsible can reflect on the consequences of their inaction and make changes accordingly.

“We are still waiting to receive formal apologies from Moore, Cairns and Pearson, from Lancashire County Council and from the directors of Hillcroft.

“Smith, Moore and Cairns have received custodial sentences and we hope that this sends out a clear message that this type of crime will not be tolerated, however it disappoints us that Pearson will not serve time in prison for the crime she committed.”

“Utterly contemptible”

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Hulme from Lancashire Police said that the behaviour of Smith, Cairns, Pearson and Moore was “utterly contemptible”, adding “I can only hope they will now reflect on their actions and see just how cowardly their conduct was.”

Hulme also commended the staff at Hillcroft who blew the whistle on what was happening. “This couldn’t have been an easy thing for them to do, but what I must emphasise is the families’ gratitude towards them for coming forward. 

“The outcome of this investigation will hopefully encourage people to report all incidents of abuse to the police and other appropriate agencies, in the knowledge that such reports will always be treated seriously and with the upmost sensitivity.  

“I would also like to praise the families of the victims. They trusted these people to care for their relatives and treat them with courtesy and respect. To learn that they failed in their professional duty to do so must have been extremely distressing, yet they have conducted themselves with great dignity throughout. Having listened to the families, I know that they are still struggling to come to terms with the terrible acts inflicted upon their loved ones. I can only try to understand what an incredibly difficult period this has been for those affected, but I sincerely hope that these sentences provide an element of closure for all of the families concerned.

“I don’t believe that the behaviour shown by Smith, Cairns, Pearson and Moore is a true reflection of the majority of staff at Hillcroft, and I am satisfied that the care home… is now a completely different environment, with the quality of care afforded to all residents, being carefully managed and monitored.”

Joanne Cunliffe, crown advocate for CPS North West Complex Casework Unit, added: “The CPS takes all instances of abuse against older people extremely seriously, and we have been determined to bring these defendants to justice for their crimes. We are committed to prosecuting crimes against older people and protecting the vulnerable, and where there is evidence of abuse or ill treatment, the perpetrators of that abuse can expect to be brought before the courts and prosecuted robustly.”