Council counts cost of care home abuse

A COUNTY council is facing a six-figure bill after agreeing to pay compensation to eight handicapped adults over sexual, physical and emotional abuse they suffered in a care home.

By Annie Davidson

A COUNTY council is facing a six-figure bill after agreeing to pay compensation to eight handicapped adults over sexual, physical and emotional abuse they suffered in a care home.

The victims were all said to have been subjected to a catalogue of abuse while living at Holliwell Lodge in New Farm Road, Stanway in Colchester.

Most of the victims suffered from cerebral palsy or Down's Syndrome and were subjected to the abuse between 1971 and 1984.

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At the High Court yesterday their counsel, Elizabeth-Ann Gumbel QC, said the victims were variously sexually, physically or emotionally abused by Gordon Cartwright, who was in charge of the council-run home between 1971 and 1984.

Mr Cartwright, who retired on ill-health grounds and never faced any disciplinary proceedings over the abuse allegations, has since died.

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Mr Justice Douglas Brown approved a final settlement of three of the cases. Five others were settled in July this year.

Under the terms of the deal, most of the eight will receive payouts from Essex County Council of between £12,000-£25,000, although one of them received £60,000.

Brendan Roche, for Essex County Council, told the judge: “What happened at Holliwell Lodge under the leadership of Mr Cartwright is a matter of extreme regret to the council” who had “not disputed liability in any serious sense.”

Miss Gumbel told the judge the council had also agreed to make funds available - up to £10,000 for each of the eight victims - so that they can undergo psychological therapy to help them deal with their traumatic experiences.

The QC told the judge there had been an official investigation into events at Holliwell Lodge in 1993 - “The Wakefield Inquiry” - but a copy was only obtained by victims' relatives earlier this year and, even then, only after a court application.

Giving his blessing to the settlement, Mr Justice Brown said: “This has been an extremely difficult case to evaluate in money terms.

“Putting a figure on pain, suffering and loss of amenity is a difficult task and it has been particularly so in this case.

“Today's hearing produced closure to a very unhappy situation which goes back to the 1970s.

“I am glad the local authority has expressed extreme regret for what happened to these people who were then young children.”

Outside court, solicitors said all eight claimants had learning disabilities and little or no communication skills when they were residents at Holliwell Lodge.

They claimed all eight had been “systematically abused” by Mr Cartwright.

The alleged abuse came to light when two staff at the home “blew the whistle” on Mr Cartwright in 1984.

But Frances Swaine, the solicitor for the eight victims, claimed that, although Mr Cartwright was immediately suspended, the police were not informed of the abuse and neither were the children's parents.

She claimed that one girl at the home had been dragged from her bed by the hair and beaten with a walking stick.

Another was said to have been regularly bathed and sexually molested by Mr Cartwright alone in his flat.

A girl was alleged to have been punched, kicked and given inappropriate medication and a boy was said to have been regularly slapped and physically abused.

Mr Cartwright's dogs were allowed to terrorise the children, added Ms Swaine.

But she said it wasn't until 1993, when one of the children alleged she had been raped by Mr Cartwright, that social services looked into the case again and the police and parents were notified.

Ms Swaine said an important part of the settlement from the point of view of her eight clients was that they would now have access to appropriate psychological treatment to help them deal with the trauma of what happened.

The solicitor said the abuse had taken place over 20 years ago and it was “very sad” it had taken so long for a settlement to be achieved.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said last night: “Essex County Council is pleased that compensation has been awarded to the people who were subject of abuse at Holliwell Lodge in Colchester some years ago.

“Agreement had already been reached between all parties involved and this was formally recognised at court yesterday.

“Essex County Council has accepted vicarious liability for the actions of an individual in this case and continues to express regret for the incidences of abuse at the Lodge in the 1980's.”

Holliwell Lodge is still owned by Essex County Council but is due to close in spring next year.

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