Whorlton Hall Prosecution – 11 April 2023 – Peter Bennett

The jury were brought into court today at 10:30 with HHJ Smith apologising for the slight delay in starting due to technical difficulties that a technical team were trying to solve. [The audio and picture on the remote link has been a little patchy all day, especially at the start of the morning].

HHJ Smith explained to the jury that every witness starts on the same footing [he explained it in more detail but the sound kept dropping out] but to paraphrase he was instructing the jury that defence witnesses, whether defendants or anyone else, and their evidence hold the same status as witnesses for the prosecution.

Peter Bennett was then sworn in. His counsel, Mr Rutter, asked him a number of questions [unfortunately the sound was difficult, it would drop out every fourth or fifth word, so I am not going to be able to report in detail a lot of his answers, but will attempt to paraphrase and summarise what he told the court].

In response to questions from Mr Rutter, Mr Bennett told the jury that he was 53, had never been in trouble before in his life and agreed that he was a man of good character. Mr Rutter asked Mr Bennett when he had began working in the care industry, and whether he’d worked at Whorlton Hall throughout. Mr Bennett said he had started in 2009, and had worked at Whorlton Hall up until his resignation. He started as a Healthcare Assistant and he described his duties as “to support people with learning disabilities on a daily basis, from personal hygiene, through to outings and helping with any medical issues these people have”.

He told the court that in 2016 he was promote to the role of Senior Healthcare Assistant. Asked whether his responsibilities changed with the promotion he said “a little, yes, it was a bit more paperwork and supervisory roles involved”. Mr Rutter said that “we’ve heard how difficult the place was to work at” and asked whether Mr Bennett had ever sustained an injury and he said he thought he’d been injured on about 10 occasions. Asked by Mr Rutter what his response was to receiving an injury he replied “I couldn’t respond, it wasn’t permitted… I sought medical attention”.

Mr Rutter then asked him whether he was ever made aware of concerns about the manner in which patients were restrained. He told the court about an occasion when Niall Mellor, another defendant, told him about concerns relating to Patient 6 “in particular about the way in which the patient’s head was being held”. Asked what he did when he received that information, he said that he raised it with the nurse in charge, former employee who the court had heard was referred to as X, and “she told me everything was fine with the hold and was no concerns”.

Asked if he received any further communications from anyone in relation to this he told the court that “a week or two later I received a telephone call from a lady called Catherine Prosser. She was higher up, not in Whorlton Hall, in Cygnet. She was based at Head Office”. He said that she knew he’d reported his concerns to the nurse in charge at the time and requested that he put something in writing, in an email, outlining what he’d done, which he said he did. Asked by Mr Rutter if there were any developments following that, Mr Bennett said that former employees X and Y were suspended from duty. HHJ Smith confirmed what role Y had held, and Mr Bennett explained he had been the person who was conducting the hold on Patient 6 who the complaint was about. He told the court he never had any concerns about any other members of staff.

Mr Bennett said that from when he started work at Whorlton Hall (in 2009) he’d been continually employed by the company. Asked if he ever had to take time off he told the court:

“I did. Was one time I was on duty and I had what I would describe as a nervous breakdown due to the stresses of working there. I found it overwhelming and actually walked out of a duty and went home”.

He recalled that this was at the end of November 2018 and he thought he took three weeks off work. In response to Mr Rutter’s question he told the court he went to see his doctor and sought treatment and was referred to counselling.

When he returned to work, Mr Rutter asked if there were any changes to his duties and responsibilities and Mr Bennett responded:

“Yes, I was more in an office based role, but I was still expected to attend on the shop floor if you like, support members of staff, covering breaks, being on the response team. Was given responsibility of monitoring agency staff and keeping records”.

Mr Rutter then asked Mr Bennett about the charges he faces on the indictment [Counts 1, 2 and 13 detailed here]. Turning first to Count 1 on 6 January 2019, Mr Rutter asked Mr Bennett what his role was on that day and he said he’d have been on response.

MrR: Where would you be stationed?

PB: In the office downstairs

MrR: And what grabbed your attention?

PB: The noise of Patient 1 screaming.

MrR: Which floor was she on?

PB: Upstairs on the first floor, the opposite side of the building from the office I was located in.

Mr Bennett told the court that his office was on the ground floor and that he heard Patient 1 screaming, and an attack alarm was activated “up there” and as a responder, when an alarm was activated, it was his obligation to attend. He said he attended with Matthew Banner (another defendant) and when they arrived Patient 1 was being cared for by two female staff members, Milly O’Neill and Olivia Davies. Asked what state Patient 1 was in when he arrived he described her as being “very unsettled, screaming and I think she was pacing around her bedroom”.

He confirmed that Patient 1 was being cared for by two female staff members and that he knew she had a preference to be cared for by women but it was “not at all times” possible to ensure that happened. Asked what his desire was, having attended he responded “my complete and whole desire was to calm Patient 1 down”, continuing that he wished to leave the area because he didn’t want to stay there “hearing the screaming”. Asked by Mr Rutter what options he had he said that the first option was to “engage verbally, to talk the person down, change the train of thought that person has got at that time”. He continued by telling the court that if that option doesn’t work he could go to the nurse and inform them of the behaviours Patient 1 was displaying and request PRN medication “which would, basically, depending on what PRN she’s on, could knock her out for the day, she’d fall asleep”. He explained that the third option would be to physically restrain the patient.

In response to Mr Rutter’s questions he said that his preferred option was always the least restrictive, talking. That if Patient 1 had had PRN medication “she’d have fallen asleep, zombified” and that she wouldn’t have been able to continue with any other activities and she “wouldn’t have learnt to control her emotions herself”. He described medication as a quick fix, but that it was there if staff thought it was required. He said that the third option was physical restraint which was “dangerous” even though they sometimes had to use it. He said that it was “always used as a last resource” because it came with a risk of injury to all involved as patients wouldn’t stand still, and that he’d try to change the thain of thought of someone first.

Mr Bennett said that his voice was calm and that he tried talking to Patient 1 and suggested she use white noise. He told the court that it took a while but that the patient calmed down “very much at her own pace”. Asked if he could have left Patient 1 being cared for by the two women he said:

“Absolutely not, not when she’s agitated. She has a history of violence and aggression. If I’d have left her in that state I wouldn’t be fulfilling my duty of care to patient 1, or the staff there supporting her”.

Mr Rutter then asked more questions about what Mr Bennett said on that occasion.

MrR: We know from the transcript you said you’d be there until she calmed down.

PB: That’s correct, yes

MrR: What was your purpose in saying that?

PB: Purely because she was unpredictable and agitated and screaming and not calm whatsoever, could have attacked staff or injured herself… so I couldn’t leave.

MrR: Were you intending to agitate her?

PB: Absolutely not, the complete opposite.

When asked about the ‘man button’ Mr Bennett told the court that there was one occasion when he was in Patient 1’s room. He described her as being unsettled and screaming, and there was a lot of staff around. He said every room in the hospital had an alarm with a stickman on it, that every Cygnet unit has them and your local hospital has them. He told the court that “as a diversionary tactic, to get Patient 1 to calm down, it wasn’t working, I suggested if you need anything Patient 1, press that button with man on it, the man button”.

He told the court that was the only time he said it, other than when Olivia Davies asked him about it in the dining room. “Looking at the footage, to me it was Olivia Davies going around and asking other staff about it”. Mr Rutter said that he was most interested in what Mr Bennett’s motivation was for mentioning it and he said “to calm Patient 1 down, get back to her normal day”. Asked by Mr Rutter what would the consequence would be “if you were pouring fuel on the fire”, Mr Bennett told the court that Patient 1 would be at risk of PRN medication, or being physically held by staff.

Moving onto the subject of balloons Mr Rutter asked what Mr Bennett’s understanding was and he told the court that he had no idea about Patient 1’s preferences in relation to balloons.

MrR: Did you notice [balloons] in her room before this day?

PB: No. On that day I walked into the bedroom whilst she was screaming, on side next to her bed was a pile of balloons already there, approximately between 10 and 20 balloons

MrR: We heard on video at one stage you appeared to twang one

PB: That’s correct yes

MrR: Why did you do that?

PB: Saw them there, picked one up, started twiddling with it, just as you would with a pen… no reason just picked it up.

Mr Rutter then asked Mr Bennett to describe his relationship with Patient 2. He said “Patient 2 has attacked me before and scratched my hands, but a typical carer service user relationship”. Mr Rutter moved on to ask about the incident relating to Count 13.

MrR: On this occasion, 28 February 2019, you speak a few words of French?

PB: That’s correct, yes

MrR: Why did you do that?

PB: I have no idea why I said it, possibly just to divert tension from Patient 2, change her thoughts. Was plenty of other different languages spoken in Whorlton Hall at the time such as South African and Polish.

MrR: Were you intending any consequences for her when you used those words?

PB: None whatsoever

MrR: We see on video at some point you’re sitting on the chair, then you rise slightly from it?

PB: That’s correct, yes

MrR: Why did you do that?

PB: Because she scratched me in the past, I was pre-empting her coming out her room to scratch me, as I rose she returned to her room

MrR: For how long was she in her room?

PB: A split second, she came back out again

MrR: How was she with you when she came back out?

PB: She came out with her arms outstretched and held my hands and I explained to her her staff wouldn’t be too much longer could she please return to her room… she was holding my arms

MrR: Were you intending to cause her any distress?

PB: No not at all.

Mr Rutter asked Mr Bennett why in his first police interview he didn’t provide answers to any questions, but in the second he did.

MrR: Why the change?

PB: Purely because I was advised by my solicitor to do so

MrR: Did you tell police the truth?

PB: Absolutely.

There were no questions for Mr Bennett from Mr Constantine for Matthew Banner, Mr Walker for Sarah Banner, Mr Normanton for Karen McGhee, or from Mr Hopkins (who was providing cover for Mr Knox) for Mr Fuller.

Mr Patton, for Niall Mellor, told Mr Bennett that he wanted to ask him about the systems in place at Whorlton Hall. Mr Bennett confirmed that he started work at Whorlton Hall in 2009 and stopped work after the BBC Panorama programme was aired.

MrP: In the time you worked there was it the same owners?

PB: No it was not. No, I believe it was called Castblebeck when I first started there.

MrP: Do you know who owned Castlebeck?

PB: I can’t remember, sorry

MrP: Was it a private company?

PB: I think it was, yes

MrP: Then did it become Danshell?

PB: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Bennett said that as far as he was aware Whorlton Hall became Cygnet in Summer 2018 and he confirmed that the incident discussed earlier with former staff members X and Y happened before Cygnet took over.

MrP: When Danshell owned it, that was when the episode happened with X and Y?

PB: I believe so

MrP: And they were never prosecuted were they?  X and Y?

PB: As far as I’m aware no. I’ve heard on the grapevine…

HHJ Smith interjects and tells Mr Bennett that it’s important that Mr Patton asks him about things he knows personally and explains that is what he’s there to help with, and things he’s heard from someone else might be unreliable so he must rely on what he saw and what he knows.

Mr Patton asked Mr Bennett to explain the hierarchy of staff members at the home. He did so, confirming it was: healthcare assistant, senior healthcare assistant, nurses – staff nurse, senior staff nurse, charge nurse, deputy manager, unit manager.

Mr Patton suggested that healthcare workers were paid minimum wage, had zero hour contracts and didn’t receive holiday pay, but Mr Bennett explained it depended on the contract people were on. He was paid holiday pay. Mr Patton moved on to ask Mr Bennett about his client, Mr Mellor, raising a concern with him about a restraint hold.

MrP: Complaint was about a member of staff using excessive force on a patient?

PB: He came to me with concern about way a hold was performed on Patient 6’s head

MrP: The hold was performed by putting a fist into a wound?

PB: That’s what I later found out but he never told me that at the time

MrP: So in terms of following hierarchy, he was following that?

PB: Yes

MrP: Rules was it should be kept internal?

PB: Not really, there were other options

MrP: Didn’t the home expect you to keep things internal rather than go external?

PB: No, you could report internally or externally, route would be report to line manager but if you weren’t happy can go external to CQC or the police

MrP: If he reports it to you, you’re to report it to?

PB: I went internal, and reported it to my line manager, former employee X

MrP: Did you become aware Niall Mellor had gone external?

PB: No. I had no idea

MrP: To the CQC?

PB: No

MrP: X and Y you say were suspended?

PB: That’s correct yes

MrP: But never sacked were they?

PB: I think they were sacked

MrP: When was that?

PB: I don’t know, I wasn’t privy to that information

MrP: Was it before Cygnet took over?

PB: I don’t know.

Mr Patton asked about staffing levels at Whorlton Hall and Mr Bennett said “we could reasonably expect that sometimes we’d be short staffed” and in response to a follow up question he said they were short staffed about three times a week. He told the court that the knock on effect of being short staffed was that there might be no response, or nurses might have to be put on observations of patients.

Mr Patton then asked about the “community of patients” at Whorlton Hall and whether they were “static or changing”. Mr Bennett didn’t fully understand his question so Mr Patton rephrased it slightly, eliciting the following response:

“It was supposed to be changing, but we did have people in there long term. I’ve known patients be in there 20 years, I’ve known people be in there three weeks”.

Mr Patton asked about the patients in the indictment, offering to run through them and Mr Bennett responded that it was “difficult to stay, depends on the definition of long term”, when Mr Patton asked about any patient who’d been there over 28 days, Mr Bennett responded “no, longer than that, could be there for 6 months, but usually a couple of years”.

He added that Patient 1 “wasn’t there very long” and that they had “discharged her to a new service”, telling the court that Patient 1 had moved into a residential house on her own, with staff.

MrP: So, she had some independent living in the community?

PB: After Whorlton Hall, yes.

MrP: How long had she been there?

PB: From my memory approximately a year, maybe less.

MrP: Patient 4, how long had he been there?

PB: He was reasonably new to our service, less than a year.

At this point the jury passed a note to HHJ Smith. He described it as a perfectly reasonable request, and not one aimed at Mr Patton, but a request for all counsel when referring to a specific event, usually a count on the indictment, to refer to the video footage by exhibit number and the transcript references to aid the jury.

Mr Patton explained he was talking to generality at the moment “simply cross examining someone else about the system so it doesn’t just come from my client”. HHJ Smith acknowledged that.

Mr Patton moved on to ask Mr Bennett about how staff would know about a patient’s likes and dislikes. Mr Bennett said that staff would read careplans when someone first entered the unit, and day to day updates would be provided in handover meetings. The nurse in charge would give a rundown of each patient, a brief account of what they’d done each day and any issues.

MrP: At handover?

PB: Yes

MrP: Presumably patients with these very complex problems, things can change from day to day?

PB: Absolutely yes

MrP: So at handover you expect to be made aware of any charges?

PB: Yes

MrP: Who supervises the handover?

PB: Nurse in charge of finishing shift, and incoming shift too

MrP: Are notes made of handover?

PB: Yes

MrP: What contact do healthcare assistants have with the clinical team, psychiatrists, psychologists for example?

PB: The only contact they’d have is if an MDT meeting, multi-disciplinary team, patient would have meeting every so often. If patient is capable of going into that meeting the staff supporting patient at time would take patient in. That was only contact staff would have with the MDT team.

Mr Patton asked Mr Bennett if he’d been to MDT meeting with patients, he had.

MrP: That’s an opportunity for a patient to articulate any anxieties?

PB: Yes

MrP: Some patients aren’t able to do that, what happens then?

PB: Staff could advocate for them, staff spend lot of time on observations, even though they have difficulties, you can’t help but get to know them quite well, you’re spending thousands of hours with people

MrP: What about Independent Mental Health Advocates, did you see much sign of them there?

PB: No

MrP: Each patient is entitled to one though, aren’t they?

PB: We had an advocate come in from an advocate company

MrP: A private company?

PB: Yes, as far as I’m aware

MrP: These are all NHS patients aren’t they?

PB: I believe so

MrP: Kept as this private facility, and their needs met by other private enterprise companies?

PB: Yes

MrP: Did you ever meet any advocates?

PB: The only advocate I met was the same advocate who’d come back every week

When Mr Patton asked whether Mr Bennett saw them spending time with patients he replied saying she’d sit with the MDT team and “occasionally I’d seen her sit with patients, but not very often”.

Mr Patton checked whether that was because Mr Bennett was in the office and might not have seen her going to visit patients. Mr Bennett responded:

PB: I seen her occasionally visit patients but generally the majority of the time was in the MDT meeting

MrP: Did you know what they were supposed to do the advocates?

PB: Yeh, they were supposed to be a voice for patient’s, to express their needs and wishes

Mr Patton’s final questions related to how staff accommodated Patient 1’s request to be supported by female staff, with Mr Patton checking and Mr Bennett confirming that it was not always possible to accommodate this wish, and that Patient 1 had a male psychiatrist, a male psychologist and a male occupational therapist.

No questions from Ms Brown for Darren Lawton, Mr Dryden for John Sanderson, or Mr Rooney for Sabah Mahmood.

Ms Richardson, the Crown prosecutor, opened her cross examination with what she described as general questions.

MsR: Would you agree this was a poorly remunerated job?

PB: Yes I would

MsR: With long hours?

PB: Yes

MsR: And with difficult people, by that I mean patients?

PB: Yes I do

MsR: Sometimes verbally aggressive?

PB: Yes

MsR: Sometimes physically aggressive?

PB: Yes

MsR: And sometimes both?

PB: Yes

MsR: Can you help me with this please. When a member of staff presses an alarm button and you as responder attend, does the alarm continue to sound until you or another responder press the off button?

PB: That’s correct yes

MsR: And is the alarm loud?

PB: Yes

MsR: Would you agree that as far as you were concerned there was little, or no, support from management?

PB: Yeh I’d pretty much agree with that.

MsR: Why did you become a care worker please Mr Bennett?

PB: It was a change of career

MsR: What had you done before?

PB: I used to be a Driving Instructor

MsR: So, change of career, anything else?

PB: No

MsR: Did you know going in it would be long hours?

PB: Yes

MsR: Did you know you would be poorly paid for working the hours you’d be doing?

PB: Compared to what I was earning it was better paid.

Asked why he decided to work specifically at Whorlton Hall, Mr Bennett told the court that the job was advertised, it was local and he didn’t know much about it but he thought he’d apply and see what happened.

Ms Richardson said that Mr Bennett had heard her read Dr Jackson’s statement describing what it was Whorlton Hall was meant to be achieving, supporting people to learn independence and move on. Asked by Ms Richardson if he thought Whorlton Hall achieved that Mr Bennett responded “we tried but it was quite difficult… we were faced by a lot of resistance from the patients we had… if any progress was made, it was quite slow”.

Mr Bennett couldn’t remember how many patients were at Whorlton Hall in the period relating to the charges, December 2018 to early March 2019, but he confirmed it was a 17 bed facility and there were some empty rooms so it couldn’t have been full, he estimated there were anywhere between 10 and 15 patients.

Ms Richardson asked Mr Bennett if he could help with what his duties and responsibilities were towards patients in the more senior role of senior healthcare assistant, he replied:

“No because at the time I was more in the office, I didn’t really have a lot of patient contact apart from when I was in response or covering breaks. I was more involved with keeping records of agency staff at the time”.

Asked about his duties and responsibilities towards more junior staff as a senior member of staff he said that he could possibly give them advice but he “couldn’t really remember” and that he “used to do a lot more work in the office”.

When Ms Richardson asked who was more senior between Mr Bennett and Mr Banner, Mr Bennett said that neither of them were, they were equal. When Ms Richardson followed up, Mr Bennett agreed that he’d been a senior for longer than Mr Banner, and had worked at Whorlton Hall for longer than him. When she stated that he was also 10 years older than Mr Banner, Mr Bennett said he couldn’t tell her how old Mr Banner was.

Mr Bennett answered some questions about shift patterns, telling the court that staff were meant to work with one patient for 6 hours before switching to support another patient for the second half of their 12 hour shift, but that did not always happen. He said that some people worked 12 hours with one person, usually “if they offered, or were asked and didn’t mind”.

In response to questions from Ms Richardson, Mr Bennett told the court that workers had no choice in who they worked with, in terms of patients or colleagues. He said that nurses would allocate patients to staff and a senior healthcare assistant would take that sheet around and inform staff of who they’d be working with next.

Mr Bennett agreed when Ms Richardson suggested that as a senior healthcare assistant, he could influence the culture and atmosphere within the work environment. She gave the example of junior staff being a bit lairy, loud, sweary or disrespectful and asked if as a senior Mr Bennett could say stop it, just stop that sort of talk. He agreed.

When asked whether he agreed that staff members were perfectly entitled to talk and joke amongst themselves, that shouldn’t be done in the hearing of patients unless they were also part of the joking and chatting, Mr Bennett suggested it depended on the situation.

MsR: Would your answer be the same if staff members were swearing and making sexual comments in the hearing of patients?

PB: Could be, yes

MsR: How would it be different to your previous answer? Can you help us with that please?

PB: I don’t really understand what you’re asking here.

MsR: If you heard someone saying, in front of Patient 4 for example, someone saying “I had a belly full of ale last night, I was with 3 women, was out till 4am”, is that something you’d say “don’t say in front of patients, leave that for the staff room?”

PB: Could do, depends on how loud they were saying it

MsR: If Patient 4 is standing in hearing distance?

PB: I suppose I could say something

HHJ: would it be appropriate for that sort of conversation to go in in front of patients?

PB: No not really, no

HHJ: On that basis I think Ms Richardson is saying could you, or should you, have put a stop to it?

PB: Yes, I could put a stop to it

MsR: Did you ever put a stop to such a conversation?

PB: I don’t remember.

When Mr Bennett asked if Ms Richardson was referencing specific occasions she said she’d turn to those later. Mr Bennett agreed that patients were sectioned under the Mental Health Act, so could not leave, and he also agreed that they “by and large they had complex needs and issues”.

Ms Richardson went on to ask about Mr Bennett’s knowledge of Patient 1 and her care plan.

MsR: You knew she was, to put it mildly, a very complex person Mr Bennett?

PB: Yes

MsR: Was there anything wrong with her eyesight, as far as you were aware?

PB: No not that I’m aware of

MsR: Was there anything wrong with her hearing, as far as you were aware?

PB: No not that I’m aware of

MsR: Did you feel she was wholly responsible for her actions?

PB: To a degree, was questioned whether she had capacity when she first came in.

Mr Bennett said it wasn’t for him to say whether Patient 1 had capacity as he wasn’t clinically trained.

MsR: Do you believe she understood her actions in the same way someone without her needs and difficulties would have done?

PB: I believe her actions would get her what she wanted, so would be different way to anyone without the disability.

When Ms Richardson asked if Mr Bennett thought that Patient 1 needed routine the conversation went like this.

MsR: Did you think she needed routine

PB: I believe staff tried routine but she just stayed in her room all day

MsR: I’m not asking what staff thought, I’m asking what you thought…

PB: I didn’t think anything

MsR: Did you think she needed to feel safe?

PB: Yes, we all do.

MsR: Did you think she needed to be respected?

PB: Yes, we all do.

Mr Bennett agreed that Patient 1’s family didn’t live nearby and he thought she only got to see them about once a month.

After a short break Ms Richardson continued to question Mr Bennett, showing the court extracts from the video clips that the jury were shown on 10 March and 11 March. Ms Richardson started by asking Mr Bennett how he would help de-escalate a situation with Patient 1, he said that he’d ask her to stop. When prompted for anything else, he said that Patient 1 would generally have her own staff with her who’d take care of that and would take the lead in trying to stop that type of behaviour.

Ms Richardson then turned to Count 1 and asked Mr Bennett what his understanding was of Patient 1’s preference as to males and females on her observations. He responded:

PB: My understanding is that she preferred females, so it’s a bit more complicated than just wanting to have females. She had favourite females, sometimes she hated some of the females, she preferred some men, hated some men. Never hard and fast, in general she preferred females, sometimes because she could play up for the females, she changed the goalposts massively.

MsR: Did you see her changing the goalposts or was that just what you heard?

PB: No, in handover. I was never on observations with her, unless I was covering breaks.

At this point HHJ Smith interjected to ask Mr Bennett to slow down and reminded him that he was taking a note, he double checked what he’d heard, which was that Patient 1’s preferences for male or female carers wasn’t entirely predictable, Mr Bennett agreed, and he said it was in no way a criticism of him but Mr Bennett wouldn’t necessarily see this much himself, as he was only looking after her as part of 2-1 during breaks. Mr Bennett agreed and told the court that “possibly only on two occasions throughout the time of her being there, and one of them was on a night shift when she was asleep”. HHJ Smith asked if on those occasions Mr Bennett had looked after Patient 1 throughout the 6 hour shift, but he said that he’d only cover staff so that they could get a meal or a lavatory break.

Returning to the incident of 6 January 2019 in Count 1, Ms Richardson asked why Mr Bennett came to Patient 1’s room. He said if it was the same clip he was thinking of Patient 1 was screaming and unsettled, and in response to Ms Richardson asking what his purpose of was for attending Mr Bennet said “to keep everyone safe”.

Ms Richardson played an extract from the video clip and asked Mr Bennett what he thought could be achieved by himself and Mr Banner standing at Patient 1’s door. He responded:

We were there purely for safety, we wouldn’t have been there unless there was something going on. We both had a duty of care to care for Patient 1 if she was unsettled, and for the staff due to Patient 1’s violence and aggression.

Ms Richardson showed a clip from slightly later on and asked Mr Bennett what he thought could be achieved by saying ‘me and Matthew’ and asking Patient 1 who she wanted to support her, them or Milly and Olivia.

MsR: How would that de-escalate the situation and keep staff safe please?

PB: It’s an attempt to try get her from heightened sense of anxiety, to see what the facts are… come on let’s calm down and you can have the girls back, or we have to stay there.

MsR: She didn’t calm down though did she Mr Bennett?

PB: If there’s further footage to show she didn’t I’d like to see it

Ms Richardson played a further clip.

MsR: There she is screaming, so your tactic hasn’t worked, why is it then, what’s the point of saying to the two women, can you two move out of sight please?

PB: We were always taught on MAYBO techniques to change face of the person supporting the person… wouldn’t work this quick with any patient, cant expect to become settled in one second… at end of situation Patient 1 is calling me Pete and asking me for a drink

MsR: But the ladies and gentlemen of the jury have heard the full clip, ear piercing scream that goes on and on

PB: Yes, that’s what she did, day in and day out.

Ms Richardson suggested that Mr Bennett would want to do everything he could to “lessen that assault on your ears” and he said that he didn’t wish to be there. When asked how he felt telling her to be quiet for 10 minutes before females could return would help the situation, he told the court that you’ve more chance of calming down if you’re quiet.

Ms Richardson suggested that Mr Bennett’s approach had escalated the situation, not de-escalated it, he disagreed saying that Patient 1 can not calm down quickly.

Ms Richardson showed a fourth clip before putting more questions to Mr Bennett.

MsR: Mr Bennett you asked do you want the women back, a number of times, at the end she couldn’t even calm herself down sufficiently to answer you could she?

PB: She couldn’t calm herself down anyway, was a time sensitive situation, if I’d sat there saying nothing she’d have continued screaming anyway.

MsR: But it’s not part of your training to sit and do nothing, you have other primary and secondary techniques?

PB: Yes… we were taught in MAYBO de-escalation techniques, thought swop, talk about something different, sometimes it clicks and works, do stop being unsettled, sometimes is akin to handing them a ladder out of the hole they’ve climbed into, sometimes holding out a hand to someone who’s been restrained, be a friend to them…

MsR: How did asking her do you want the women back, do you want the women back, Patient 1 do you want the women back, when you’re in her room and Matthew Banner is sat outside with his legs up on the wall, how would that help?

PB: Would help her calm down, she’d have Milly and Olivia back… I didn’t want to be there listening to Patient 1 being distressed, I wanted to be back down in the office on my computer.

MsR: How did you think telling her Niall, who’d just come along to the scene, would be staying as well, would assist her to calm down at all?

PB: I didn’t say that.

MsR: Did you think that was a helpful thing for anyone to say?

PB: I was in Patient 1’s room, I told the police in my interview I was focusing on her.

MsR: You told the police in your interview Patient 1 preferred women on her observations because women were weaker and she’d attack them. Was she attacking them when you arrived on the scene?

PB: I can’t say before I arrived. Patient 1 was anxious, upset and screaming, possibility she could of was quite high.

MsR: The possibility she could have, so she’d already attacked them… you’re senior care worker, if she’d have attacked them they’d have told you wouldn’t they?

PB: Yes. Depends what you call attack, she could have slapped someone in the stomach.

MsR: No one said that did they, at no point did they say she was attacking them.

Mr Bennett did not reply and HHJ Smith asked whether he’d attended on that occasion in response to an attack alarm or simply in response to the noise

PB: I was in the office and could hear screaming, I believe the attack alarm had gone off.

Ms Richardson then moved on to asking Mr Bennett about his view of Patient 1.

MsR: Did you think Patient 1 was calculating?

PB: Absolutely, she was a very clever lady

MsR: That’s what you told the police, she was calculating, that’s your view of her is it?

PB: Well no, obviously she’s a human being, she had a lot of qualities. She was so clever, if you told her what a date of birth was she could tell you what your star sign was, a complicated equation in her head without writing anything down

MsR: I’m not talking about clever, I’m talking about calculating, your word. What did you mean by that when you told the police?

PB: On occasions observed her mother would visit, she’d bring McDonalds and Patient 1 was nice as pie with her mother. As soon as she finished her McDonalds she’d tell her mother to fuck off and she’d move back to her room

MsR: So that’s calculated is it?

PB: In my opinion

MsR: It couldn’t be that she has complex needs and is very volatile?

PB: I don’t see the relevance of what you’re saying

MsR: You told police had been a long time, 10 months, since you’d looked at her care plan, yes? Had you forgotten the techniques you were taught to calm her down and gleaned under your experience?

PB: When you’re under pressure in a police interrogation room, it’s not at the forefront of your mind

MsR: Are you saying they bullied you into making answers?

PB: That’s your words, I’m not saying that at all.

A little later Ms Richardson played a further clip and asked Mr Bennett about it.

MsR: What are you doing there? What’s the noise we can hear?

PB: Fiddling with balloons

MsR: Twanging them

PB: Fiddling, twanging yes

MsR: You’re doing that why?

PB: Because I had them in my hand

MsR: Why did you pick them up?

PB: No reason, they were there.

Ms Richardson asked if Patient 1 had stockings there would he have picked them up and he said that was not a fair question. Ms Richardson then asked Mr Bennett about the man button.

MsR: The man button, was it your invention?

PB: I am on camera saying that, yes.

When Ms Richardson asked Mr Bennett why he said it, he said that there was an incident in Patient 1’s room where she was unsettled and screaming.

PB: I was in there with a lot of other people, can’t remember who they were. Situation was out of control, the primary and secondary strategies weren’t working… I had to take control of the situation before it escalated any further. Every room in the hospital has a button with a picture of a man on and I said to Patient 1, not even sure if she heard me say it because she was screaming, if you need anything press that button, with man on, the man button.

MsR: So it wasn’t your invention as it were, you were just describing button throughout the hospital?

PB: Yes

MsR: So why did you say it was your invention?

PB: It was just banter between myself and Olivia Davies

MsR: When you said to Patient 1 if you ever need assistance, press the man button, did it assist her?

PB: I don’t know she heard me say it.

When Ms Richardson asked Mr Bennett if he taught anyone else about the man button he said no, and that he was unaware of how Darren Lawton became aware of it.

Ms Richardson played another clip, AJS/41.

MsR: Right, Mr Bennett you’re saying that in front of Patient 2 who is a patient, did you think that was an appropriate thing to say in front of a patient?

PB: Patient 2 wouldn’t have really understood what I was talking about I don’t think

MsR: You don’t think. Can she hear?

PB: Yes

MsR: So you don’t know if she understood?

PB: There’s no reaction there

MsR: Do you know if she understood or was capable to understand?

PB: No I don’t think she did

MsR: Why are you saying the man button was my invention, and the balloons as well, I’ll tell you later. Why didn’t you say there and then?

PB: Because I had Patient 2 with me

MsR: So what you were going to say to Olivia Davies was something that was inappropriate to say in front of a patient, is that right?

PB: No, but I was busy looking after Patient 2 so I said I’d tell her later.

Ms Richardson then played the clip where Mr Bennett was telling Ms Davies about it.

MsR: Right, there you are explaining to Olivia what is happening in relation to the man button, yes?

PB: Yes

MsR: And instead of what you’ve told this jury which was “I said if ever time you need any help you press this button with male on it and that will help”, what you say is if I press this button all the men will turn up and you don’t want that do you, noooo..  So which is it?

PB: This is me talking away from the situation, sometime later anyway, colleague to colleague discussion.

MsR: Yes I know what it is, I’m asking why you said it?

PB: To Olivia?

MsR: Yes

PB: Because she asked me

MsR: Yes. But its completely different to what you’ve just told this jury about the man button.

PB: Yes

MsR: Why?

PB: Because I was describing it to Olivia

MsR: Why?

PB: No particular reason, she asked me.

MsR: Were you lying to Olivia or lying to the jury?

PB: Possibly enhancing the story to Olivia

MsR: Enhancing the story, why were you enhancing the story?

PB: No particular reason

Ms Richardson moved on to asking Mr Bennett about balloons.

MsR: Now balloons, you’ve told the jury just randomly as you go into room to assist her, with Matthew Banner sat outside with his feet on the wall, you randomly pick up a balloon, yet here you are to Olivia saying is a bag of balloons, me and Matthew are in there, pick it up, she says stop don’t like balloons. When did that happen then?

PB: When I walked into the room

MsR: At what stage was Matthew “pissing around with balloons” as you told Olivia? At what stage?

PB: When we walked into the room

MsR: See if you can help me. You pick up a balloon randomly, could have been pen if she were allowed pens, or pegs, but you pick up a balloon and we heard that snapping noise, would you accept that’s some sort of twanging?

PB: Yes

MsR: At what stage does Matthew pick up a balloon and start “pissing about with it”?

PB: From memory about the same time

MsR: Does he say anything when pissing around with the balloon?

PB: I don’t remember, it’s 4 years ago

MsR: So are you saying its completely incidental that both of you pick up balloons when you’re in Patient 1’s room?

PB: Absolutely.

Ms Richardson asked Mr Bennett why he’d not told the jury what he’d told Olivia, he asked her to repeat her question.

MsR: You told us you picked up balloon randomly and you didn’t know Patient 1 didn’t like balloons. You didn’t tell the jury what you tell Olivia, that Patient 1 was screaming and you asked what the matter was and she said don’t like balloons. Why not?

PB: You didn’t ask the question

MsR: So, do you accept you and Matthew Banner both went into Patient 1’s room, pick up balloons and both snap them?

PB: I do yes

MsR: Given your account is it was just a random account, why is it necessary to regale Olivia Davies with a big smile on your face, in a whisper, that account of balloons?

PB: She asked me.

Questioning moved on, HHJ Smith clarified what the alarms looked like and that the attack alarms were different to what he would be calling the assistance button.

Ms Richardson played a further clip and suggested to Mr Bennett that his approach of talking to Patient 1 about balloons was clearly not working. He said that “she’d continue to scream anyway, she’s that unsettled”. Asked why in that situation he didn’t put the balloon down and use another distraction technique he said it’s “not a 30 second quick fix with people with learning disabilities”.

MsR: You told the jury that you picked balloons up and fiddled with them. Why are you fiddling with balloons with a screaming woman who needs calming down? Was it a deliberate act?

PB: No, I was trying to calm her down.

After a further clip Ms Richardson asked Mr Bennett what he meant at the end when he said “I thought what the fuck. I didn’t even fucking know this happened, should issue staff with balloons”. He said he was just having a conversation with Olivia and talking hypothetically.

MsR: With a patient as volatile as Patient 1 if you don’t know on any given day whether she likes balloons or not, the safest way is not to take them in. You say should issue staff balloons. What did you mean by that?

PB: I meant nothing by it, I was talking rubbish to Olivia Davies about something I couldn’t do anyway.

MsR: Why were you talking rubbish to her?

PB: Because I was

MsR: No particular reason?

PB: No, she asked me about things and I said things.

HHJ Smith then attempted to clarify things. He suggested that it read as though Mr Bennett was saying to Olivia, that they had balloons which was upsetting Patient 1, he says he’s paraphrasing and asks Mr Bennett to read it.

HHJ: It reads as through you’re saying to Olivia, there was this time, we had balloons, she didn’t like it?

PB: Yes.

HHJ: I wasn’t doing it on purpose, and she was looking it thought what the fuck, I didn’t even fucking know this happened. You’re saying she didn’t like balloons and I was surprised about that?

PB: Yes sir

HHJ: Then you say should issue staff balloons? I think Ms Richardson is saying it reads as though management should give us balloons because it winds her up?

PB: No when we started fiddling with the balloons Patient 1 went quiet and stopped screaming.

HHJ: Yeh?

PB: I was referring back to that. If we issued staff with balloons and if we went up there and she was screaming the staff would have balloons but I’m talking rubbish to Olivia because I wouldn’t have the authority to do that anyway

HHJ: But you say she doesn’t like them, so why would it be a good idea for staff to be issued with them?

PB: To stop her screaming.

HHJ: So even though she didn’t like them, it was in fact stopping her screaming?

PB: Yes

HHJ: Right, I see.

At this point court adjourned for lunch. On return Ms Richardson had further questions for Mr Bennett.

She played a further clip and asked Mr Bennett whether staff were outside Patient 1’s room having that conversation, he agreed they were. Asked why they were there he said that it was the end of a period when Patient 1 had been unsettled. He agreed that staff were still on duty and at work at that time.

MsR: So todger dodgers, mirrors, spreading them and looking at your gash, in the hearing of a woman with Patient 1’s complicated needs?

PB: At that time Patient 1 had ear defenders on

MsR: Well she could hear what you’re saying because she shouts Pete, and you say yes and she replies

PB: That was after that conversation.

MsR: Where were you when this conversation was going on?

PB: In the corridor

MsR: She was talking to you wasn’t she?

PB: I was slightly in her door, and in the corridor.

MsR: Help me, are you saying you were ok to talk like that because she had ear defenders on?

PB: Because she couldn’t hear what we were saying I thought it was ok

MsR: So you thought it was ok, in a work environment to speak like that because she couldn’t hear? You thought it was appropriate?

Mr Bennett again responded that she couldn’t hear. Ms Richardson asked about the appropriateness of the conversation again.

MsR: You heard Matthew Banner and Niall Mellor, speak in similar terms, as someone older than them and hopefully wiser, why didn’t you say let’s leave it lads until we’re away from the residents?

PB: I didn’t know what age Matthew Banner was

MsB: Why didn’t you say it’s not appropriate? There’s patients here, women here, let’s leave it for the staff room?

PB: She couldn’t hear us

MsR: Was that the mentality you agreed with… people freely using sexual innuendo in front of residents, whether they could hear or not?

PB: It was a conversation in the corridor where no one would could hear us.

MsR: Did you think what you were doing, threatening Patient 1 with men, balloons, and speaking of what we’ve just heard, was consistent with her care plan?

PB: It wasn’t a threat [fuller answer – didn’t catch].

Mr Bennett did not accept Ms Richardson’s suggestion that he was being deliberately cruel to Patient 1. She moved on to asking about his engagement with Patient 2.

Mr Bennett said that he’d done a short course in Makaton but he “wouldn’t say it was used to it’s full potential”. He confirmed that Patient 2 was autistic, and he knew that. He accepted that he was much bigger and taller than Patient 2.

Ms Richardson showed a clip relating to Count 13. When she asked Mr Bennett why he was speaking French to Patient 2 he said:

PB: It was just a verbal comment I made in French, I’d just come from something else, was a distraction, there were plenty of other languages spoken in Whorlton Hall, South African, Polish, Romanian.

MsR: Because the workers were South African, Polish and Romanian?

PB: Yes

MsR: Did you have any South African or Polish or Romanian patients in the home?

PB: No

MsR: You’re not French are you Mr Bennett?

PB: No

MsR: Has Patient 2 ever spoken French to you?

PB: No

MsR: What was your purpose in saying something that deliberately went over this woman’s head?

I didn’t catch Mr Bennett’s answer. When Ms Richardson asked him if he enjoyed showing off he said no, and asked whether he enjoyed the fact that Niall Mellor was laughing and saying it was class, he responded “I couldn’t care less what Niall Mellor thought about that situation”.

Ms Richardson then played the clip again, to the end this time and asked Mr Bennett why he was getting off his seat.

PB: Previously, Patient 2 can scratch out of nowhere, even if her nails are sharp she can dig them in your hands, she’s done that to me a couple of times. Once upon a time there was another member of staff there who Patient 2 threw down the stairs, we thought she’d broken her back… I thought she was coming out to scratch me.

MsR: If you thought she was coming to scratch you, there’s a big lad like Niall Mellor there, Olivia Davies is back in there… why did seconds later you beckon her out of the room…. You’re beckoning her towards you, the woman you’re frightened will hurt you?

PB: I’m diverting, I’m telling her what happened next

MsR: Do you accept you frightened her back into her room?

PB: I don’t accept that at all, if you knew Patient 2 you wouldn’t either

MsR: Was that a snapshot of your behaviour at Whorlton Hall?

PB: No

MsR: Do you like to assert control over patients Mr Bennett?

PB: No I like to keep everyone safe, I don’t like people getting injured which we saw happened frequently

Ms Richardson ended by suggesting that Mr Bennett liked to bully patients and assert his control over them, he said “no, they’re your words and they’re not my MO” [modus operandi I assume].

Mr Rutter had no re-examination.

Sarah Bennett

Mr Rutter asked to call one witness, Sarah Bennett. She gave an affirmation. HHJ Smith ensured she had a glass of water and asked her to address her answers to the jury and keep her voice up.

On questioning from Mr Rutter she confirmed that she was married to Peter Bennett and had been since 2011. She had worked at Whorlton Hall twice, between 2006 and 2010 and she returned in 2018, leaving after the Panorama documentary had been broadcast.

Mr Rutter said that he wanted to ask her about Patients 1 and 2. She told the court that she “never really had much to do with Patient 1 at all” and that their paths crossed on rare occasions. She said Patient 1’s person centred care plan was kept by her keyworker, if you were on observations you could read through it but it “changed daily, because of Patient 1’s autism, likes and dislikes would change every day”.

She told the court that when Patient 1 arrived at Whorlton Hall she was working the night shift and for her safety Patient 1’s belongings were kept in the corridor for the first night. She described that she had a severe latex allergy and Patient 1 had balloons in her belongings.

In response to Mr Rutter’s questions she described an occasion when she took Patient 1 into the community to a doctors appointment. HHJ Smith interjected to clarify, that Mrs Bennett had said their paths very rarely crossed but there were times when she were supervising Patient 1. She said that she was a designated driver.

She described an incident where Patient 1 sat back in a chair and kicked a doctor “to the other side of the doctor’s room” and more staff were required from Whorlton Hall to restrain Patient 1 in the doctor’s surgery, to keep her calm and prevent further damage. When Mr Rutter asked for another example, Mrs Bennett described a trip out with Patient 1 where “because she was really well behaved” in the supermarket, she was taken across the road to a shop to buy arts and craft supplies.

Mr Rutter then asked Mrs Bennett whether Patient 1 got along with every female who cared for her. She responded that she didn’t and that Patient 1 didn’t tend to like agency staff. Asked about the situation with regard to male staff she said:

SB: Patient 1 liked quite a few male carers, she had one in particular who on a night shift would look after Patient 1, where she’d draw a picture of her and this guy getting married. She quite liked him, were quite a few Patient 1 really liked

MrR: And some she didn’t?

SB: Some she didn’t.

Mr Rutter then moved on to ask about Patient 2 who Mrs Bennet said she had “a lot to do with” as she was on observations with Patient 2 nearly every day.

MrR: How did she behave?

SB: If Patient 2 was unsettled, she’d come out and attack, could be for any reasons but Patient 2 couldn’t communicate the reason with us. She’d normally go for your eyes, facial area, biting, scratching, nipping.

MrR: Was that behaviour something you’d communicate to other members of staff?

SB: Yes Patient 2 was well known for the damage she’d done to other care workers.

Mr Rutter had no further questions. There were no questions from Mr Constantine or Mr Walker.

Mr Normanton asked about the person centred care plan for Patient 1. He took Mrs Bennett to the careplan bundle but she said that was a different document.

SB: No Patient 1 care plan was different, this was done by Stacey Barnes said on here, was various copies of this done in weekly basis but very rare anyone not directly with Patient 1 would see this.

MrN: So the document here, my person centred statement, with name Patient 1, date 25 November 2018

SB: Yes

MrN: That was you say a document that would change weekly and not many people would see it?

SB: No

MrN: Where would it be kept?

SB: This was kept with Stacey Barnes

MrN: Right. No further questions, thank you.

HHJ: just remind us who Stacey Barnes was?

SB: Senior healthcare worker at Whorlton Hall

No questions from Mr Hopkins, Mr Patton, Ms Brown, Mr Dryden or Mr Rooney.

Ms Richardson asked Mrs Bennett when Patient 1 came to Whorlton Hall but she couldn’t remember the date. She said she remembered Patient 1’s property because she was on observation with a patient two rooms away and she suffered a reaction to Patient 1’s property. She told Ms Richardson she saw Patient 1 with balloons on “several occasions” that her parents had brought her balloons and a balloon pump but Patient 1 “would only blow them up so far because she didn’t like the noise of them being popped”.

Ms Richardson asked Mrs Bennett about her working alongside her husband, which didn’t happen as that was company policy and it suited them for animal care.

MsR: So would it follow he didn’t see you carrying out your duties and vice versa?

SB: That’s true

MsR: So anything you knew was from talking to each other about how was your day?

SB: Yes, after period of time, could be two or three days where bit of information gets missed.

Ms Richardson asked Mrs Bennett about Patient 2 and whether it was difficult for her as a carer when Patient 2 was unsettled and couldn’t communicate.

SB: It could be. I’ve had numerous injuries from Patient 2, quite severe ones. But if you were firm and to the point with Patient 2, and she had an instant like towards you, you were perfectly fine. She liked quite a few of the younger, or even the older men, she was a bit flirty.

MsR: Right. You, have you ever had to restrain her because of her biting and scratching you?

SB: Numerous occasions.

MsR: So was the biting and scratching done to you, also done in your presence to men?

SB: It was done to almost every member of staff, on daily basis, could be weekly basis, depended on Patient 2’s mood on the day.

MsR: Did you ever take any pre-emptive moves, would you restrain her first?

SB: No if Patient 2 was coming for me I’d move out of the way in any way I could.

Mrs Bennett said she’d watched the Panorama Documentary on the night it came out and she told the court since that time she’d remained married to her husband.

MsR: Have you talked about what happened on the documentary?

SB: We don’t tend to talk about what happened on the documentary because we have our own personal lives.

MsR: Did you talk about the charges he faces?

SB: We talked about them in the beginning, I struggle to understand the charges, like you said about the pre-emption

MsR: I’m not asking for your understanding, that’s not me being rude, just asking whether you and your husband spoke about them, and you’ve answered me that you did.

Ms Richardson had no further questions. HHJ Smith thanked her for giving evidence and asked her not to talk about the questions she’d been asked with anyone left to give evidence.

She was released shortly before 14:45. Then the court heard the start of the evidence of Mr Banner, but I’ll report on that when it’s complete tomorrow.

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