Fountain Chambers successfully defend four healthcare workers in the BBC Panorama Whorlton Hall abuse scandal trial

The four healthcare workers from Whorlton Hall hospital faced charges of ill-treating patients. They were represented by Rebecca Brown, Robin Patton, Paul Rooney and Johnathan Walker, who are part of Fountain Chambers specialist criminal team.

The evidence against them came from covert footage recorded by the BBC Panorama team, who sent an undercover reporter to the hospital. After an 8-week trial, all four defendants were acquitted of all charges.

The case attracted national attention as it exposed the abuse and mistreatment of vulnerable adults with learning disabilities and autism at Whorlton Hall, a privately-run NHS-funded unit in County Durham. The BBC Panorama programme showed some staff members intimidating, mocking and restraining patients in a culture of “psychological torture”. A police investigation was launched and 16 staff suspended. The hospital was closed down and all the patients were transferred to other services. A Safeguarding Adults Review was also conducted to examine the systemic failures that allowed such abuse to happen.

The defence lawyers argued that the footage was selective and misleading, and that the staff were acting in accordance with their training and policies. They also challenged the credibility and reliability of the undercover reporter and some of the witnesses. They presented evidence of positive interactions between the staff and the patients, and highlighted the complex and challenging nature of the work environment. They claimed that their clients were scapegoats for a wider problem in the sector.

The jury accepted their arguments and found all four defendants not guilty of all charges after deliberating for less than two days. The verdicts were welcomed by the defence team, who said that their clients had been unfairly vilified and had suffered immense stress and anxiety during the investigation and trial.

Rebecca Brown and Robin Patton acted for Darren Lawton and Niall Mellor respectively, instructed by Peter Hamill of Meikles, Solicitors. Paul Rooney acted for Sabah Mahmood, instructed by Amy Hossack. Jonathan Walker acted for the fourth defendant, instructed by Ben Pegman of Hewitts Solicitors.

News articles:

Phil Morley as lead junior secures murder conviction

Phil Morley of Chambers, lead by Mark McKone KC, secured a murder conviction against Leighton Amies. He was 14 years old at the time of the offence (the reporting ban has been lifted) and used a kitchen knife to stab another 14-year-old boy in the chest, killing him almost instantly. After doing it he made the comment to the deceased’s friends, “your boy has been wetted.”

News reports: BBC, The Guardian, The Independent


Property Investors Found Not Guilty

Following a seven-year investigation a married couple who invested in property and businesses have been found not guilty of charges under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and other consumer legislation.

The not guilty verdicts followed a series of hearings in which Mr Patton and Mr Rooney challenged the legality of property searches and the admissibility of expert evidence.

On Monday 13 March 2023, the prosecution offered no evidence against the couple.

Robin Patton, instructed by Gerald Armstrong Solicitors, Sunderland, represented the husband and Paul Rooney, instructed by Angus Westgarth Solicitors, Sunderland represented the wife.

Richard Bennett appointed District Judge (MC)

Fountain Chambers is delighted to announce that Richard Bennett has been appointed as a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts). The Lord Chief Justice has deployed him to the North Eastern Circuit, based at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court, with effect from 27 February 2023.

Richard Anthony Bennett will be known as District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) Bennett. He was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1996. He was appointed as a Deputy District Judge in 2019, and was head of the regulatory and criminal team in Chambers from 2014.

Paul Rooney successful at the Court of Appeal

Paul Rooney appeared before the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) on behalf of the CPS, to argue why a sentence of 9 years on a plea of guilty, in relation to a Conspiracy to supply Class A Drugs, was not manifestly excessive. The appellant was represented by a Silk on a privately paid basis. The appeal was dismissed, the court agreeing with the submissions of Mr Rooney.