A judge has criticised the management of a Western Health and Social Care Trust-owned facility for what he described as a permitted culture of failing to address concerns raised by staff over the treatment of highly-vulnerable residents.
Deputy District Judge Liam McStay made the remarks after convicting a care worker who ill-treated four vulnerable victims in a residential home, and praised the staff who came forward, despite what he described as a reluctance to report concerns as action was not being taken.
A defence lawyer argued it was his client’s “desire for cleanliness” as opposed to cruelty which had led to the charges, which she continues to deny.
Violet Campbell (68), of Abbeyvale, Derry/Londonderry, was convicted after a contested hearing before Judge McStay earlier this year.
Offending occurred at Seymour Gardens Residential Home in the Nelson Drive area of the Waterside in Derry/Londonderry, which is owned and operated by the Western Health and Social Care Trust.
The judge criticised the home management’s poor reaction to staff reporting Campbell’s physical and verbal abuse of victims on various dates between September, 2017 and December, 2018.
In evidence, Campbell’s former colleagues detailed a number of incidents, including her slapping a patient’s leg and ordering another out by bed by stating: “Get up, you are stinking.”
She also held a running shower into a patient’s face while shouting: “I will shut you up.”
The court heard that when colleagues challenged Campbell, she warned them against speaking out.
Describing Campbell as “a cruel person”, a former colleague told the court nothing was done when she reported her to management.
”I reported my concerns, but was told to calm down. Nothing was done about it, yet again. Management never dealt with it. My concerns were not dealt with at all,” she said.
Campbell, however, dismissed the evidence against her, claiming her former colleagues were jealous.
Judge McStay convicted on four out of five counts, branding Campbell’s attitude and treatment of her victims as “inexcusable and insulting”.
On return for sentencing, the defence contended Campbell’s behaviour “was not cruel and deliberate to inflict harm, but rather, her inability to put the feelings and wellbeing of victims above her desire for cleanliness”.
Defence continued: “There was mention of cleaning ears, changing clothes against victim’s wishes and making very pejorative commentary against appearance.
“She [Campbell] was not inflicting wanton violence against the injured parties for a sort of kick, or loss of temper.
“While there is reference to the long period of time the offences [were] committed [over], they were specific and isolated, involving one or two incidents, as opposed to a daily regimen of abuse, day in, day out.”
Campbell, said the defence, has been suspended by her regulatory body and her work as a carer has ended.
Judge McStay said: “I have a victim impact statement which makes moving reading, and I do not dispute the sentiments expressed therein.
“Essentially, it is a great act of trust to put a vulnerable parent into the care of other people, and when that trust is violated, it affects all the others.
“What struck me about the witnesses was their emphasis that these patients – who are perhaps the most vulnerable in society, and completely dependent on the people who care for them – they are at home.
“It’s that point which colours how this case is seen. This is very much a breach of trust.
“Each and every one of these residents were entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
While accepting it was Campbell’s desire for “cleanliness, order and presentation that took precedence”, Judge McStay said the custody threshold was passed.
Addressing her directly, he said: “You were entrusted to look after the most vulnerable in society – people who no longer can speak for themselves.
“They can’t even complain to their loved ones or other staff about their treatment. It’s like someone lying on the ground who is kicked but can’t complain.
“There is complete freedom, unless, as happened in this case, other staff observed the behaviour.
“They had the courage to come forward and deserve a great deal of credit for standing up to someone like you [who], in my view, used your experience and authority to domineer your way through this care home.
“You failed in your duty to respect these victims.”
Campbell was handed a sentence of three months, suspended for two years.
Following conviction, Judge McStay expressed serious concerns on the culture permitted to exist within the facility, including a staff reluctance to report issues, and when they did, management failing to respond appropriately – in effect, stifling further attempts to report issues.
The Western Trust has been contacted for comment.