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  • Sarah Whitebloom

Wild West Sussex bans 'independent' Board sympathy for abuse-case families

West Sussex County Council is actively trying to stifle dissent from an independent expert over its bungled handling of the Bates-Lewis case – in which two men suffered serious injuries at a Horsham-care home. A series of emails seen by OLM show that WSCC has instructed one supposedly independent member of the county’s Adult Safeguarding Board not to respond to the families’ concerns over WSCC’s mishandling of the affair – but to ‘hold our agreed line’.

A damning report in April questioned WSCC's lackadaisical response to the injuries and speculated if this had something to do with the victims having learning difficulties. The report asked pointedly whether the authorities would have acted in the same way had children been involved. Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s Cabinet-level spokesperson on social care has called for a ministerial investigation into WSCC’s actions.

Louise Goldsmith

With the media spotlight on it, WSCC, which is led by Cllr Louise Goldsmith has been attempting to keep a low profile, refusing to apologise directly to the injured men or their families, placing the blame for the affair firmly at the door of the homes group, Sussex Health Care, and shrugging off any criticism.

However, in a series of emails seen by OLM, WSCC's tactics are laid bare - casting a shocking light on the council’s strategy of stone-walling the families and its continued refusal to act fairly in this case.

Commencing last Saturday, the email chain began with a request from Martyn Lewis, brother of one of the injured men, Gary Lewis, for a comment from Rosemary Pavoni, chair of West Sussex Partners in Care. This is a not-for-profit organisation representing care providers in the county. Ms Pavoni is a member of WSCC’s Safeguarding Adults Board – which is supposed to provide independent scrutiny of the council’s actions.

Rosemary Pavoni - stifled

Ms Pavoni replied to Mr Lewis the next day, saying that it had been agreed that any response would come from the Board’s independent chairperson, Annie Callanan. But, she expressed sympathy for the families, saying: ‘I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating it must be that that you have not received any contact to date and I shall ensure to raise your concerns as matter of priority.’

Mr Lewis responded by return, asserting that WSCC was attempting to control members of the Board and exclude families.

Less than 20 minutes after receiving Mr Lewis’s stinging response, Ms Pavoni emailed Ms Callanan and made clear she was not happy with being put in this position by WSCC.

She wrote: ‘I am a total loss to know how to reply to this and would welcome your guidance at your earliest opportunity as I feel he has some valid points and we must respond as a matter of priority.’

Ms Callanan evidently did not feel Mr Lewis deserved a rapid response and did not reply to Ms Pavoni until the next day, Bank Holiday Monday. She then told Ms Pavoni not to break ranks but keep to the ‘line’. Betraying concern over WSCC’s possible legal culpability over the affair, she wrote: ‘I have asked for legal advice about the best way to respond to Mr Lewis.’

And then, in the most damning line, the ‘independent’ chair Ms Callanan said: ‘I consider you need to hold to our agreed line, we are working to get to grips with all of the issues we need to respond to and it is important we do that in a planned and informed manner

The Bates and Lewis families are still vigorously pursuing explanations for what happened to their relatives in 2015. Mr Lewis, along with Mark Bates, father of Matthew, who suffered the same agonising injuries as Gary, are refusing to let WSCC sweep the matter under the carpet.

April's report detailed a horrifying catalogue of failures by care agencies in West Sussex and has led to widespread calls for action in respect of WSCC's failures.

Three years ago, it took a hospital consultant to question how the two men had both suffered broken femurs at the same time in the same home for anyone to take note. Nevertheless, the police were not contacted for months. And, the report did not rule out collusion. WSCC had close links with the home owner, which is now under investigation by Sussex Police over 13 deaths.

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