The first counsel to address the jury this morning (24 April) was Mr Stephen Constantine for Matthew Banner. He didn’t have a microphone for his initial opening comments so I missed them, but when those in the dock alerted the court to the fact they were struggling to hear that was addressed.
So ladies and gentlemen, I hope given the two weeks since elapsed, you’ll forgive me for a little indulgence, to remind you a little bit about Matthew Banner.
Mr Constantine told the jury members that they’ll remember that Mr Banner went to work at Whorlton Hall in the early part of 2017.
He was there as a support worker having recently been a newspaper delivery driver for a period of five years.
Mr Constantine told the court that Mr Banner’s only experience of caring was for an elderly man with dementia, and his mother with Multiple Sclerosis.
He had no qualifications in mental health care, social care, nursing care, anything like that.
He started off at the very bottom.
He was given MAYBO training, like everybody else, but as far as specifics to deal with the people who he was supporting and caring for, there was nothing.
Mr Constantine told the jury that Matthew Banner received no training on how “to deal with patients with autism”, that he had put his name down on a couple of occasions and that he’d asked his employers to give him further education, but due to the staffing problems that they have heard about “so much prevented that, every time he was due to do a course, his name was pulled”.
Mr Constantine told the jury that Mr Banner was someone with a desire to further himself and to do better by those to whom he had a duty of care.
Ten months passed and he got a grand promotion, Senior Support Worker, 50 pence per hour more into his wage packet than previously.
How did he do that?
He did not take any further qualifications, he said that, normally people went into that role working towards NVQ Level 2 of Social Care … may well be a combination of the fact he told you he was good at his job, and the fact staff turnover was such someone who had been there 10 months was regarded as pretty senior in any event.
Mr Constantine told the jury that one of Mr Banner’s duties in his enhanced position was looking after bite jackets, which he said perhaps gave an indication of the protective wear required by staff. He told the jury that Mr Banner had told them on occasion he’d assisted Mr Bennett with agency staff “sounds like a pretty big task in itself”, but “more significantly as far as this case is concerned, he was a responder”.
Mr Constantine told the jury that he hoped it was the case that very few of them had been attacked, or threatened with attack, in their work experience. He referenced what Ms Richardson had said in her concluding speech about her own experience, and asked what about at Whorlton Hall?
Well as a responder, you know that when the attack alarm went off, it went off because there was an imminent danger, to staff or one of the patients.
A person had to respond.
And respond immediately.
He had no idea when the alarm went off, who it concerned, what the situation was, or what he was likely to be faced with.
He had to go.
Mr Constantine reminded the jury that he’d asked Mr Banner how he dealt with this situation, having not had any training in how to use any strategies.
Mr Banner told you, looking back on it, I’m not sure to be honest. A little bit of confidence, mixed in with a little bit of bluff, mixed in with life experiences.
That was it ladies and gentlemen.
Mr Constantine told the jury that he’d asked if anyone had given Mr Banner any assistance in what to talk about with patients, or what not to talk about, and he’d told the court there was nothing like that, “you were just there to learn, to watch, that was basically it”.
Mr Constantine said that the jury could look at their leisure at the agreed facts, but he reminded them that Olivia Davies was employed for 38 days, and during that period there were 50 incidents recorded in Cygnet records of minor violence, aggressive threats, minor self harm concerning Patient 1 and on five of those days there were at least two separate incidents. Mr Constantine told the jury that would put into context the working day that Mr Banner faced.
Mr Constantine told them that Mr Banner was charged with six counts.
The prosecution say Matthew Banner ill-treated Patient 1 by cruel and abusive behaviour towards her, and only her.
Mr Constantine said that there were really only two areas that concerned Mr Banner, the first being male carers. He told the jury it was common ground, and he didn’t dispute on behalf of Mr Banner, that Patient 1 expressed a preference for females on her observations. He said that the jury know that staffing “was clearly an issue at Whorlton Hall”. He told them that they also know that the allocation of staff to patients was beyond Mr Banner’s pay grade, wasn’t his responsibility and he had no say in it.
So, his encounters that you have to consider with Patient 1, came as a result of him acting either as a responder, or on one occasion where he is clearly going around checking keys allocated to people.
Mr Constantine then told the jury the second area was balloons.
The prosecution says that on four occasions Matthew Banner made references to balloons in such a way that it was cruel and abusive.
Based upon what?
Mr Constantine told the jury that the basis for the premise Patient 1 disliked balloons was all on one document “the thing with the cat on the front of it called a person centred statement”. Mr Constantine directed the jury to it and said they could look at it, at their leisure, but he said on page 11 it says “I don’t like balloons, in brackets, this depends on how I’m feeling at the time”. He told the jury that in the column of things I like to do it says “having my nails painted”.
The prosecution have hung all charges based on what is in that document which you’ve just read.
Mr Constantine took the jury through the document highlighting various parts, including at the end where it said that Patient 1 would like her Mum and Dad and Community Psychiatric Nurse to have a copy and that it should be kept in the office. Mr Constantine told the jury that Olivia Davies had made some reference to it being kept in the nurses’s office, however others said that they thought Stacey Barnes, the author of the document had kept it with her and taken it home.
Finally it says you need to sign it, it’s not signed so we don’t know really whether that was ever approved by Patient 1 … you’ve heard no evidence from the lady that helped her prepare it.
Mr Constantine told the jury that Mr Banner in his evidence told them he had not seen that document and he did not know that Patient 1 had ever expressed any dislike of balloons. Mr Constantine told the jury what other documents were in the bundle relating to Patient 1, listing a number of them.
What’s missing from your bundle is the careplan, the Bible as far as these support workers were concerned.
He told the jury that the careplans were the things that had everything in them, that they were there for support workers to look at and events were recorded, things updated in them.
You don’t have the care plan, if you were to ask yourselves why, there is perhaps a very easy answer, because it makes no mention of balloons.
Mr Constantine told the jury that if there had been a careplan with a list of triggers that mentioned balloons “in any way, shape or form it would be in your bundle, because Ms Richardson would have put it there”.
So how then is Mr Banner supposed to know that this patient doesn’t like balloons?
What evidence is there, what information apart from that one document, is there to say be careful when you deal with Patient 1, she’s got an issue with balloons?
Mr Constantine told the jury that it was the opposite, and that Mr Bennett’s wife’s evidence was that she had an allergy to latex and Patient 1 had balloons with her when she moved to Whorlton Hall. Mr Constantine then directed the jury to a transcript of a conversation between Patient 1 and two female support workers where they discuss balloons and inflatables.
Later on that day, Peter Bennett and Matthew Banner were called as responders. There was clear evidence, if you look at the transcript, that there were balloons in Patient 1’s room.
Peter Bennett referred to them when he spoke to her.
As Mr Rutter said, if they were a known trigger then why on earth did Milly O’Neill and Olivia Davies allow them to remain in the room?
Surely that would have been in breach of their duty to Patient 1?
Mr Constantine told the jury that staff members had discussed Patient 1 making a tutu out of balloons and inflatables. He told them rather than one line in a person centred statement, he submits that there is positive evidence that Patient 1 actually liked balloons.
Mr Constantine then told the jury about an occasion where Patient 1 had her nails painted and became distressed. He said that this happened after something identified as a positive event for Patient 1 and it resulted in a restraint “such was the escalation”. He described this as an example of how Patient 1 shifts. He said that the prosecution had described her as complex, that Ms Davies had described her as having a number of triggers and that sometimes her behaviour changed and she might start reacting badly to new stimuli.
Ms Richardson in so far as the balloons are concerned, seeks to criticise a comment made by Mr Banner towards the very end of the transcript you have. You may recall Olivia Davies asked Matthew Banner why Patient 1 didn’t like balloons.
His response was “I dunno, its weird isn’t it”. Isn’t that a simple response by somebody who thought one state of affairs existed but then learnt it didn’t?
Mr Constantine told the jury that his explanation “weird isn’t it” was a matter for them.
He then told them that he would deal with the charges briefly, stating that the prosecution says the threat of prolonged use of male carers occurred on 6 January. He told the jury that they knew why Mr Banner was there, he was a responder and the attack alarm sounded. He said that when Mr Banner and Mr Bennett got to Patient 1 “they didn’t use restraint, didn’t use any drugs” and that instead Mr Bennett had gone into Patient 1’s room and began to speak to her.
Mr Constantine told the jury that Mr Banner had limited involvement and he read from the transcript what he said.
How does it end? Patient 1 “sorry for all that nonsense”. She is right down.
She said to Peter Bennett “I want to start repeating again”. Mr Bennett says “alright I’ll do it”. Does that sound antagonistic?
Mr Banner says “Milly will be back soon, you can carry on repeating” and they both leave.
Is that cruel and abusive behaviour?
Mr Constantine then moved to another count, on 11 January, where he told the jury that Mr Banner was charged with threatening to increase the number of male carers and reference to balloons. He tells the jury by the time Mr Banner arrives Patient 1 has escalated, as is indicated by the restraint that Ms McGhee is supervising.
The prosecution objects to the reference to 3, 4, 5, 6 men … and the reference to balloons.
Mr Constantine told the jury that they must look at it “in context”. That Mr Banner told them he was turning off the light to lower the stimuli, that the reference he made to 5 or 6 men “is simply the consequences if a further restraint is required, that’s how many people would be present if MAYBO is used”.
It was an attempt, says Matthew Banner, to get Patient 1’s behaviour to come back down, quite simply, if you don’t calm down it will be men who appear and not the females which is what you want.
Mr Constantine reminded the jury that Ms McGhee had described Patient 1 to them “she said she was an intelligent young lady” and that she’d told her about the male carers so that she knew. Mr Constantine says within the transcript there is “a very telling exchange, I’d suggest, between Patient 1 and Ms McGhee” on page 20.
Patient 1 says “I will stop”, Karen McGhee says “right, stop then” and Patient 1 responds “so I can have my females”.
Now I invite you ladies and gentlemen to say that’s a clear indication that this is somebody that knows how the system works. So if she’s told you’ll have male carers unless your behaviour returns to an acceptable level, she knew, she understood.
So when Karen McGhee says she’s an intelligent young lady, she clearly was, or is.
Mr Constantine told the jury that references made by his client “were not threats, he was simply being firm … he was telling her of the consequences if she didn’t return to the acceptable level”.
Mr Constantine moved to 28 January where he told the jury Mr Banner was charged with belittling Patient 1, antagonising her and repeated reference to balloons. Mr Constantine took the jury to the transcript, saying that Mr Banner made reference to cats and a cat story with Patient 1 and the prosecution didn’t suggest that was cruel.
Ask her about balloons, she screams.
He moves onto lyrics, she says “listen to me”. “I’m listening to you” says Matthew Banner and he starts talking about her name [withheld the next bit] he told you in evidence he was referring to Axl Rose.
It’s clear from the list of likes she likes music, not Tears for Fears ladies and gentlemen, she likes opera music. That might give you an indication of her level of understanding and intelligence.
That doesn’t work, further screams.
He moves to her parents, parents doesn’t work.
So you have Matthew Banner taking Patient 1 thru any number of different subjects, trying to change her mindset, her thought process.
Ultimately something works, because she’s calm, back to white noise, he then leaves.
Mr Constantine asked the jury why Mr Banner if he thought balloons would antagonise Patient 1, why he’d mention them.
Why throw it right in the middle of a number of calming subjects, then follow it with calming subjects, it just doesn’t make sense does it, its nonsensical in fact.
Mr Constantine then addressed further counts, telling the jury about the relevant sections of transcript.
So the prosecution says all this behaviour is ill-treatment.
Prosecution says is cruel and abusive behaviour.
They don’t put the bar any lower than that.
Mr Constantine told the jury that the prosecution had said they could rely on evidence behind Divider 8 to support this contention, that Mr Banner was ill-treating patients.
Look at it, please look at it.
Conversations principally between members of staff about todger dodgers, lesbians, that kind of thing.
Puerile, inappropriate, you may think, none of it aimed directly at Patient 1.
The vast majority happens outside her room, or out of her sight and earshot.
Mr Constantine told the jury that he felt this didn’t show Mr Banner as antagonistic, and wouldn’t in the context of this case help the jury in the slightest.
You have to decide whether theses snippets, these short clips of days in the life of Whorlton Hall, selected by Olivia Davies as potential material for a TV programme, really reflect the truth of what was going on there.
Was Matthew Banner cruel and abusive?
Was he trying to antagonise Patient 1 or to threaten Patient 1?
Again, how could it possibly be in his interests to do so?
Mr Constantine referred to Patient 1’s mother’s statement that listed 21 separate things as triggers, he listed 9 including balloons popping or bursting, “there were many more I’m not going to bore you with them”.
Balloons popping or bursting but not the simple mention of the word.
If Matthew Banner wanted to antagonise Patient 1, surely there are plenty more triggers, easier triggers than talking about balloons?
You might think, it’s rather curious, that if Matthew Banner was a cruel and abusive person that he only used one thing on that list
Or perhaps ladies and gentlemen, Matthew Banner simply thought, as I will suggest the evidence supports, the contention that he believed Patient 1 actually liked balloons, and that he was using it as a strategy to try and calm her down.
Mr Constantine told the jury that they had to decide which one of those it was, and to do so they should look at other evidence relating to Matthew Banner, he told them that they know he is a man of good character, and that there was no evidence or suggestion that he ever threatened to use, or used, physical violence towards any patient.
No suggestion whatsoever he shouted at, swore at or raised his voice to any patient, that he referred to any patient in any kind of derogatory way or he talked about them with other members of staff in any kind of disparaging way.
Had there been the slightest inkling of that you could be pretty sure it would have been played to you in all the clips you’ve seen.
Mr Constantine concluded by telling the jury that Mr Banner was a man trying his best.
So what does it tell you about Matthew Banner, I’ll submit it tells you this, you’re dealing with a man who’s doing his best in particularly challenging circumstances.
Mr Constantine highlighted to the jury that Mr Banner did not “leap in” with restraint or drugs, instead using secondary strategies. He told the jury that they should bear in mind in the majority of situations they were dealing with Mr Banner was present because it had already got to a level where the attack alarm was used.
The way in which he did deal with those circumstances, was not, and was not intended to be, cruel or abusive such that it amounted to ill-treatment.
Accordingly I invite you to say the proper verdict in each count against Matthew Banner is one of not guilty.
Thank you very much.