- Sarah Whitebloom
West Sussex County Council refuses to say sorry for calling abuse-case relative 'obsessive'
Is there no beginning to the compassion and care of West Sussex County Council, led by Louise Goldsmith*. WSCC’s adult services was recently found wanting in its handling of a serious care ‘abuse’ case, but has declined to apologise and is now refusing to admit it was wrong to label as ‘obsessive’ the brother who campaigned for an investigation.
Way to go WSCC. Who is giving you PR advice? The child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? You could hardly look worse.
You may think the two issues are separate – that emailing the brother, Martyn Lewis, to call him ‘obsessive’ is completely separate from the Safeguarding Adult Review report, which found that Mr Lewis was...er...correct. But no one else will. It is hard to think of a local authority wishing to appear so dismissive, uncaring and complacent.
To recap: in April, a SAR report found the West Sussex care authorities, including WSCC, had mishandled the Bates-Lewis care-abuse scandal, in which two men with disabilities suffered traumatic leg breaks at the same care home at the same time. WSCC had to be dragged kicking and screaming to launch the SAR inquiry by the persistence of the injured men’s families, including the 'obsessive' Mr Lewis. Even now, they refuse to give up trying to find out what had happened to their relatives.
After winning the SAR investigation, the families had the satisfaction of being fully vindicated by the official report.The report’s author even questioned if they would have acted in the same way had children been involved. See the full report here.
True to form, WSCC put out a less-than-apologetic statement, placing responsibility at the door of the care home owner – one Sussex Healthcare. The authority has consistently refused to apologise to the men or their families. And last week, OLM revealed there have been attempts to silence an independent member of the adult care board – who expressed concerns over the Council’s treatment of the families.
Now, to add insult to injury, WSCC refuses to acknowledge that it may have been wrong to label Mr Lewis as ‘obsessive’. In an email late last year, four months before the SAR report, WSCC's legal department sent Martyn Lewis a shocking email – even more shocking now, given that the families have been vindicated.
On 28 December, Diane Henshaw, WSCC Principal Solicitor, emailed Mr Lewis saying: ‘I believe your behaviour in relation to your correspondence with West Sussex County Council can be described as obsessive.’
She went on: ‘This email therefore serves as a warning that if your actions continue, you will be treated as an unreasonably persistent complainant. This will mean that no further action in relation to your complaints will be taken.’
Ms Henshaw did not apologise or even respond last week. But a WSCC spokesperson refused to acknowledge any fault,claiming: ‘There are two distinct, unrelated issues here. The outcome of the SAR which we have responded to, and a correspondence involving an officer.’
It is as though WSCC operates in a parallel universe in which it people will simply accept words handed down from ‘on high’. But the truth is, West Sussex residents and everyone else come to that, will not understand how WSCC can claim these are ‘two distinct, unrelated issues’.
Mr Lewis was pursuing justice for his brother when he was labelled 'obsessive' and treated dismissively by WSCC. He was fully vindicated by the report, which showed WSCC had failed two men with severe disabilities.
For some reason, WSCC wishes to appear totally complacent. And for once, they have succeeded in their mission.
*This question was inspired by Clive Anderson, who once asked Jeffrey Archer on television if there were no beginning to his talents.