Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How an undercover reporter spent five weeks in a private home for young people and witnessed abuse that shames our 'civilised' society 1st June 2011

Just a few feet in front of me, Simone cowered in the corner of the shower, her arms over her head to protect her from the care workers who had dragged her, fully clothed, beneath the jets of water.

At the time they took my silence for acquiescence, occasionally leering in my direction as they tossed shower gel at the 18-year-old, who has learning difficulties, and threw mouthwash into her eyes.

But there was a good reason why I didn’t intervene: what these thugs didn’t know was I had a secret camera hidden in the buttonhole of my shirt and was recording every second of their barbaric behaviour.

Having gone undercover as a care home assistant, I was torn between my instinct to protect the whimpering young woman in front of me and my desire, as an investigative journalist, to ensure I had enough evidence on film to bring her tormentors to justice.

But the moral dilemma I faced here was nothing compared to some of the horrors I witnessed during my five-week investigation.

Even as an experienced journalist working undercover for BBC’s Panorama, I was deeply disturbed by the things I saw at the state-of-the-art Winterbourne View private hospital in Bristol.

Seven months earlier, Panorama’s producers had been approached by a whistleblower who worked there, alleging terrible malpractice at the £3,500-a-week hospital for adults with learning disabilities and autism. It is the modern equivalent of Britain’s Victorian asylums.

Shocked by what I’d been told, I decided to apply for a job there to see first hand what was taking place.

Once I had secured a position, one of my first tasks was to complete a course on how to restrain difficult and disturbed patients.

I prepared myself psychologically for what I might see, but within two weeks of starting my £16,000-a-year job I’d witnessed chaos and abuse worse than anything I’d expected.

At Winterbourne View vulnerable young adults are meant to be cared for in a safe, understanding environment. Its publicity literature boasts of ‘caring and dedicated staff’.

The truth, I soon discovered, couldn’t have been more different. On the hospital’s top floor, there was even a locked corridor with bedrooms down either side and a security system at both ends, with no CCTV and no guests allowed — no one, in fact, who might witness the suffering of the patients. Read More