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.