Scandal of care home sex predators free to target the vulnerable

 (Elaine Clark)
(Elaine Clark)

Predatory staff who target vulnerable adults in care homes are free to move jobs unchallenged, The Independent can reveal, as almost 10,000 incidents of sexual abuse have been recorded in the last three years.

The fact that abusers can move from home to home emerged in an independent review sparked by complaints made three decades ago by the family of a man with learning disabilities.

Clive Treacey was allegedly groomed and sexually abused at the age of 23 in a private care home in Cheshire and then moved to Staffordshire where his abuser was able to access him again, it was claimed. Both Mr Treacey and his alleged abuser have since died.

His story was first reported by The Independent in 2021 and the review into his care – carried out by the most senior safeguarding expert in England Professor Michael Preston-Shoot and seen exclusively by this publication – showed huge failures in dealing with concerns raised by his family.

It warned that vulnerable adults across the country could still be at risk of harm with no national guidance for officials on how to respond to allegations of abuse of adults by care home staff in positions of trust.

Mr Treacey’s sister, Elaine Clark, and parents Pauline and Michael said: “There are no words to describe the impact of waiting for over 30 years for the abuse that devastated both Clive’s life and ours to finally receive proper scrutiny in this safeguarding adults review…

“We can never forgive those who failed to protect Clive. It didn’t just destroy Clive’s life but all of our lives too.”

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Clive Treacey with his siblings (Elaine Clark)
Clive Treacey with his siblings (Elaine Clark)

The shocking failures highlighted in the safeguarding review come as new data from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) shows almost 10,000 reports of sexual assault, harassment or abuse have been made in care homes between 2020 and 2023.

The CQC collect figures on abuse allegations and police reports where “sexual safety” is marked. This data was first collected in 2020 and six reports were made – in 2023 this rose to 3,738.

Last year, The Independent uncovered the story of a care worker in Essex who was jailed last autumn over the rape and sexual abuse of several elderly residents across two care homes in 2020 and 2021.

‘Horrific abuse’

In 2021 The Independent revealed that an NHS-commissioned review into the life and death of Mr Treacey, who had severe learning disabilities and epilepsy, found failures by health providers led to his tragic death in 2017.

He is one of thousands with learning disabilities who spent years locked away in inappropriate hospital units and care homes.

It was only after this review that Cheshire Police and Staffordshire Police reopened their investigations into allegations made by Mr Treacy’s family 30 years ago.

Councils in both areas then commissioned Prof Preston-Shoot’s review to look into any failings by bodies such as the local authority, police and the David Lewis Centre care home in Cheshire where Mr Treacey lived before he was moved to Staffordshire.

Ms Clark said she believes her brother’s abuse “parallels the Jimmy Savile case”, adding: “We believe Clive is not the only victim and his alleged abuser was given freedom to continue for a further five years.

“Our family has carried the responsibility of exposing what happened to Clive and others across all these years. It has been an unbearable burden but we fought on because what happened to Clive matters ... The horrific abuse he experienced changed the course of his life.”

Mr Treacey’s family first made allegations of sexual abuse in 1993 after he asked them to develop a roll of film which they later found contained graphic indecent images.

Clive died at the age of 47 after a decade of being locked away (Elaine Clark)
Clive died at the age of 47 after a decade of being locked away (Elaine Clark)

The worker, who police have not named, continued to work at the care home until 1999 and had access to Mr Treacey at various other residential homes he was subsequently moved to.

This was despite being charged for taking Mr Treacey’s medical records. It is not clear where he worked after 1999.

In 2015, Cheshire police received a report from St Andrews Healthcare, a private mental health hospital, revealing Mr Treacey had made disclosures about the alleged sexual abuse.

However, it was not until January 2022, after the NHS-commissioned review, that Cheshire Police attempted to interview and arrest the perpetrator and found he had died.

The Preston-Shoot review found “missed opportunities” by local authority officials, police and during the initial investigation in 1993 of the accused.

It said: “[There was a] missed opportunity to investigate thoroughly what had happened to Clive, whether he was still at risk, and whether other adults had been abused and were still at risk.

“There were missed opportunities to put the concerns and allegations that surfaced in 1993 to the alleged perpetrator, who had been in a position of trust. This meant that Clive and other residents continued to be exposed to potential risk.”

He said health services also failed to offer Mr Treacey psychological support to address the trauma of the alleged abuse.

Prof Preston-Shoot said while there were some local policies on how to respond to allegations of abuse of adults by “people in positions of trust” there is no national policy and urged the Department for Health and Social Care to develop one.

The report also said: “Analysis of safeguarding adult reviews has found only a low number of successful prosecutions where adults at risk have been victims of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. There are also examples where safeguarding adult reviews have found evidence of sexual abuse and exploitation where the outcomes of investigations are unclear.”

He recommended the College of Policing, Ministry of Justice and Home Office publish new guidance for police on investigating whether other adults have been abused.

When approached for comment, the David Lewis Centre referred this publication to the report and its recommendations.

Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Safeguarding Adults Board and Cheshire East Safeguarding Adults Board said they have apologised to Mr Treacey’s family for the distress the case has caused them over the years and the length of time it has taken.

They said the public can be reassured that safeguarding practices have improved in the last three decades.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gareth Lee, head of protecting vulnerable people at Cheshire Police, insisted that safeguarding has improved and that it would not expect what happened to Mr Treacey to happen again.

He added: “I am aware that this will be of little comfort to Clive’s family, and our thoughts remain with them at this time.”

A spokesperson for Staffordshire Police said “Our thoughts remain with Mr Treacey’s family.

“We reviewed our interactions with Mr Treacey and our contact was as a result of requests received from Cheshire Police in 1999 regarding offences they were investigating and, therefore, had primacy. We had no additional involvement following contact with Mr Treacey.”

James Bullion, CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care and integrated care, said:“It’s important to note that the number of notifications may not directly correspond to the number of individual incidents as we may receive several notifications for the same issue or incident.

He said there is more to do to ensure that sexual safety incidents are reported and recorded in a consistent way that allows data to be shared and investigated more easily.

This story was updated at 11:06 on 18 April with a comment from Staffordshire Police, and at 13:35 with a comment from the Care Quality Commission which was recieved after publication.