Whorlton Hall Sentencing Hearing: Context and victim impact statements

Almost nine months after they were convicted, four defendants, Peter Bennett, Matthew Banner, Ryan Fuller and John Sanderson, who were all former care workers at Whorlton Hall were in court in Teeside today for their sentencing hearing.

Peter Bennett was found guilty on two counts, Matthew Banner on five counts, Ryan Fuller on two counts and John Sanderson on one count of ill-treatment of a person in care.

HHJ Smith outlined how the hearing would work, stating that Ms Richardson for the Crown would open, then counsel for the defendants would address him in mitigation, then he would rise briefly before returning to give his sentencing remarks (which he very helpfully indicated he was happy to share after the case closed).

Context of sentencing hearing

Ms Richardson opened by reminding the court that the four defendants had been convicted in April 2023, following a trial that lasted several weeks [you can find all my reporting from the trial here if you wish to remind yourself or read more]. This trial, she said, had followed an investigation into practices at Whorlton Hall highlighted by a BBC Panorama documentary.

Ms Richardson then highlighted the counts that Peter Bennett had been convicted of, adding that he was 54 and hitherto had been of good character. He was convicted on Counts 2 and 13.

Count 2: Peter Bennett on the 6th day of January 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 1, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 1 by deliberately referencing balloons and snapping balloons in her presence.

Count 13: Peter Bennett on the 28th day of February 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 2, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 2 by mocking her communication difficulties by speaking to her in the French language and advancing toward her suddenly causing her fear.

She moved on to the counts that Matthew Banner, 43, had been convicted of.

Count 3: Matthew Banner on the 11th day of January 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 1, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 1 by threatening to increase the number of male carers for the said Patient 1.

Count 4: Matthew Banner on the 11th day of January 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 1, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 1 by making deliberate references to balloons.

Count 5: Matthew Banner on the 28th day of January 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 1, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 1 by belittling her condition of repeating words, antagonising her about his presence in the room and by making deliberate reference to balloons.

Count 6: Matthew Banner on the 21st day of February 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 1, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 1 by making repeated references to balloons.

Count 7: Matthew Banner on the 22nd day of February 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 1, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 1 by making repeated references to balloons.

Ms Richardson then detailed the counts Ryan Fuller had been convicted of.

Count 23: Ryan Fuller and Darren Lawton on the 29th day of January 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 5, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 5 by instructing him to lie down on the ground to demonstrate a restraint technique and simulating an assault on him.

Count 25: Ryan Fuller on the 2nd day of February 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 6, by virtue of being a care worker on an occasion other than that in count 24, did ill-treat the said Patient 6 by antagonising him and encouraging the said Patient 6 to fight with him.

Finally, she outlined the count that John Sanderson had been convicted of.

Count 22: John Sanderson on the 25th day of February 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 4, by virtue of being a care worker did ill-treat the said Patient 4 having caused the said Patient 4 to become agitated by tampering with his personal items, John Sanderson then threatened the said Patient 4 with violence and goaded the said Patient 4 to fight with him.

Sentencing considerations

Ms Richardson and HHJ Smith then discussed sentencing guidelines, with a particular focus on to what extent Section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020 applied in this case, or could be applied. The discussion was about whether there should be a hate crime uplift to any sentence.

HHJ: The Court of Appeal authorities are silent on it… doesn’t help us one way or the other, don’t know what the approach was by the court at first instance for those reasons.

The position is, Section 66, relates to how a court should consider situation if offence is said to be aggravated by hostility based upon, here, the disability of a victim.

An offence is aggravated by that hostility, if either it is motivated by hostility. That’s not what the Crown are saying here as I understand it?

MsR: No

HHJ: So anyone submitting no evidence of motivation is addressing the wrong part of the section?

MsR: Yes

HHJ: What the Crown say, is the offence is aggravated if at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim hostility, based upon their disability?

MsR: Yes

Ms Richardson told the court that the many clips of bad character footage was unusual in this case, because normally such bad character evidence is contested and can not be viewed at face value. She said that was not the case here. She said that the jury, and HHJ Smith, had seen the clips and would have them very much in mind.

MsR: We don’t say each defendants have to be sentenced for anything they say in the clips, but the clips clearly show and demonstrate hostility, over and above the fact ill-treatment has to happen in a care setting to come within the Act under which they were charged.

HHJ: That brings me really to an important observation here Ms Richardson. It seems to me, in the ordinary course of things, the Crown might say, this particular offence, this assault or this theft, whatever charge might say in another case, is aggravated by hostility based upon disability?

MsR: Yes

HHJ: In those sorts of circumstances the court must look at the right sort of sentence for unaggravated theft or assault, whatever it is, assess right sentence for that in unaggravated form, and then give an uplift to reflect that aggravating feature, if it is found. That’s normal course is it not?

MsR: Yes

HHJ: But there are cases, are there not, where the aggravating feature is part of the very essence of the offence? It’s inherent in the offence. I give by way of example the Court of Appeal decision in 2017 in case of [Gorgen??].

You can’t apply an uplift, in a sense, where that aggravating feature is an inherent feature of the offending. To some extent isn’t that really case here, is inescapable aggravating feature that here there was ill treatment of, and when one looks at facts of this offending, that includes a degree of hostility towards people who had a disability.

MsR: It is your honour, all I’d say is the clips show, clearly the jury found, your honour will sentence on those specific counts. Surrounding those specific counts are these bad character clips which show the light in which those who were the victims of those counts were viewed by those who perpetrated those counts.

HHJ: It is perhaps an additional light to see offending, but the offending of itself, permitted inference this was all about bullying approach towards people viewed by the defendants as lesser people due to their disability.

MsR: And … extremely vulnerable

HHJ Smith discussed further with Ms Richardson the interplay between the two factors before concluding that it was impossible to approach sentencing with an uplift scenario in mind, due to the aggravating feature (disability) being inherently linked to the essence of the offending. He said that it “simply has to be part of the factors one takes into account”.

HHJ Smith told the court that the Sentencing Council had not issued an offence guideline in relation to this offence, but that he had a guideline to follow that applies when there are no specific guidelines to be taken into account. Ms Richardson agreed, stating that the maximum sentence is 5 years. She told the court that she had set out various cases that she thought might assist the court.

Ms Richardson told the court that the common thread throughout the cases she had highlighted, was that the court, time and time again had said those who were vulnerable, in settings such as Whorlton Hall, are entitled to dignity and respect, and that their families and loved ones and the wider public also expect those who are caring for them to behave with dignity and respect and people are entitled to be treated with compassion.

After some further discussion where HHJ Smith made clear that he needed to do his best to set this offending into a matrix of the sentencing guidelines and illustrative decisions of the Court of Appeal, where they’d upheld or adjusted sentences in some way. Ms Richardson provided an overview of those cases that had reached the Court of Appeal. She highlighted that Lord Justice Holroyde had said that offences of this type are “inherently serious” and that Mrs Justice Farbey had commented that families and carers of vulnerable individuals needed to be confident that their loved ones would remain safe and be treated with kindness and respect. She said “those who abuse the vulnerable in their care must be seriously dealt with, regardless of previous good character”.

Impact of offending on the patients at Whorlton Hall and their families

Ms Richardson then moved on to the matter of victim impact statements. She said that each and every victim in this case would not be able to put pen to paper to express how these events had affected them. In response to a question from Ms Richardson, HHJ Smith said that he appreciated it would be impossible to allocate specific impact from a specific event, particularly where someone had been the victim of multiple offences, but he invited the prosecution to put before the court whatever evidence they thought was appropriate to assess the harm caused by the individual’s offending.

HHJ Smith also highlighted that the harm was wider than the impact on the patients alone, as it also undermines the confidence families have in the care system. He said it would also harm family members when they learned about what had happened. He also highlighted the wider undermining of public confidence in the care system as another potential harm caused by this offending.

These are the consequences of offending, impacts on the individual, impacts on their family and impacts on society.

Patient One

Ms Richardson started by reading the statement of the mother of Patient 1. She starts by telling the court that her statement is to “let the court know the devastation of the time spent by XXX at Whorlton Hall, has caused to her and our family as a whole”.

She described how her life changed forever from the first day she found out about what happened at Whorlton Hall “not a day goes by I have not thought about it”.

She told the court that Panorama were only at Whorlton Hall for three months, her daughter was there for 15. She said her daughter often still talks about her time at Whorlton Hall but she refers to it as the “house of mongs” and she described how she became focused on individual staff. members after watching Panorama, having voice clips of them from the show.

She told the court that she does not discuss her time at Whorlton Hall with her daughter because she worries that it will increase incidents. She said her daughter had improved immensely but she still has incidents. She told the court she doesn’t believe her daughter had the capacity to understand in full the seriousness of what happened, and she was not sure if that was a good thing or not.

She said that she was desperate for her daughter to know that the staff at Whorlton Hall aren’t usual and that she should be treated with kindness. She said there are constant reminders everywhere that she let her daughter down. She said that she could not believe that staff escalated behaviours rather than supporting her daughter, and choosing to spend time with her. She told the court the staff could have enjoyed her daughter’s smile and sense of humour, that she is funny and could keep anyone entertained for hours, but instead of this they enjoyed watching her scream, hurt and harm herself.

Patient 1’s mother explained the toll what had happened had placed on her and her husband and the treatment that they had sought to try to cope. She said that Whorlton Hall was a four hour drive from them and as a parent they trusted the staff, that her daughter was taken there for her wellbeing but their trust was “unforgivably betrayed”.

The court also heard a statement from the Consultant Psychiatrist treating Patient 1 now. They said that she remains at risk of PTSD, that her parents report it takes her longer to trust staff and carers and that she episodically talks about her experiences at Whorlton Hall and has been reading the news on this matter.

Patient Two

Ms Richardson then moved on to a statement from the Consultant Learning Disabilities Psychiatrist and Deputy Medical Director where Patient 2 is now living.

She told the court that Patient 2 is not able to voice anything about her experiences at Whorlton Hall or how it impacted her, or continues to impact on her life. She said from photographs she’d seen Patient 2 used to have a happy and active life, she was photographed smiling with her hair groomed, but now she presents as visibly anxious and is unkempt most days. She said that she suffers from anxiety and associated high levels of distress.

She said that Patient 2 used to enjoy living in a shared living environment with other people, but since Whorlton Hall her living environment is significantly different and she is no longer able to tolerate being around others, and she is not able to tolerate soft furnishings so her room is very sparse.

As a result of her trauma Patient 2 is extremely sensitive and vulnerable to change, particularly around staffing. Her learning disabilities, autism and communication difficulties mean that it is especially difficult for her to manage the impact of the trauma she has experienced. The psychiatrist told the court that Patient 2 had no ability to tolerate her emotions and that any new face or new stimulus caused her significant distress. She said since her admission to their unit (after leaving Whorlton Hall) Patient 2 displayed self injurious behaviour and may assault staff and that this was an almost daily occurrence and a “consistent picture since admission”.

The psychiatrist stated that the team worked hard to reduce Patient 2’s distress, and it had reduced significantly, but progress is slow. She told the court they believed due to her experiences at Whorlton Hall, Patient 2 finds it “difficult to believe staff will keep her safe” and that this was witnessed in her difficulty tolerating, or working with staff to regulate, her distress or help with activities of daily living. She told the court that they hypothesised this was “due to her belief staff will hurt her and not keep her safe”.

The psychiatrist’s statement ended by saying that things were not only psychologically difficult for Patient 2, but they also compounded previous trauma and eroded “any belief in compassionate, safe, trusting relationships”. She concluded that she believed the trauma Patient 2 experienced would continue to have an impact on her, for the rest of her life, and that they did not believe that she would ever return to her previous level of functioning.

Patient 5

Ms Richardson then read to the court a statement from Patient 5’s sister. It detailed how Patient 5 had moved to Whorlton Hall following his release from another unit, where staff had commented on how likeable he was. She told the court the transition to Whorlton Hall appeared to go well, although they were told they were unable to visit Patient 5 there due to having a young child, so they would meet in the community or he would visit their home.

She said Patient 5 was happy and content to be with his family and they met up regularly, although he was often supported by agency staff who didn’t know much about him. She told the court as time moved on there was a change in her brother’s demeanour. He was becoming quiet and watchful of staff. He was happy to be with his sister and family, but would become dismayed when the visit ended.

Patient 5’s sister told the court how he appeared “very reserved, nervous and tentative” in other visits, “not his usual jolly self”. She noted how he needed permission and guidance from staff to do simple things, like going to the toilet. She told the court of one meeting in Costa where the conversation was somewhat difficult, and it was made more awkward by the staff attending with Patient 5 talking about Whorlton Hall and the agency work being “so lucrative and a doddle”.

She described incidents where they were notified Patient 5’s behaviour had been difficult and caused injury to staff, and she also heard of an incident where Patient 5 got a black eye. She said he couldn’t tell them what happened but it was much worse than they were expecting when they saw him. She told the court she’d received many calls from her brother where he was unhappy and aggressive in his tone. He would tell her he was in a mood, but couldn’t tell her what had happened.

She said after leaving Whorlton Hall it had taken him a long time to settle into his accommodation, and that he was very nervous. She described how occasionally he still has moments where he will antagonise staff to get a reaction. She said there had been a lot of work by various agencies and his new placement with her brother, to try to give him a sense of safety and security.

She said that people were working hard with him to deal with his emotions, “I fear we’ll never actually know or appreciate his experience”. She told the court as a family they feel very unsettled and worried that an injustice had been done to Patient 5 and they worried that future service providers would struggle to undo the harm caused.

She told the court that looking back in retrospect “we have incredible guilt and sorrow we did not speak up about our concerns”. She said as a family they felt they would never move on from Whorlton Hall, that they “feel deeply saddened” and that the defendants had total disregard for people’s human rights and didn’t value the care values of their industry. She said it was clear from BBC Panorama that they “took great satisfaction from making people feel powerless”. She said that their family had to put their trust in the system and that the impact on the individual person and their wider family will stay with them.

Ms Richardson then read a statement from a Community Nurse who worked with Patient 5. She told the court that due to Patient 5’s diagnosis of moderate learning disability and his likely trauma no attempts had been made to speak to him due to the risk of re-traumatising him.

She told the court that Patient 5’s multi disciplinary team had discussed things and all professionals agreed that due to Patient 5’s refusal to talk about Whorlton Hall they were not in a position to say whether or not he was subjected to abuse, or if and how that impacted on his presentation. “We agree we may never know how this experience and his time within this hospital affected him”. She said that it may be years down the line before he chooses to disclose anything, if at all.

She told the court that Patient 5 was reported to be pleasant and engaging in his assessment after Whorlton Hall, and he appeared to settle in well but it was noted that he would become anxious when other things happened on the ward. Patient 5 asked why he was in hospital and whether he had done anything wrong, she told the court he was told it was just part of his transition. She said he is anxious and struggles to make relationships, especially with young male staff.

Patient 4

Next Ms Richardson read a statement from Patient 4’s sister. She said what happened to her brother “was so wrong” and that she feels “shocked, upset and angry”. She told the court that she couldn’t eat or sleep for days when she saw the film and that it still affects her badly. She said she thinks about it at night, and when she wakes up.

She told the court that the staff at Whorlton Hall were nice to families and visitors to their faces. She said that she did not understand how anyone could be so nasty and cruel. She expressed her guilt when her visits with her brother end, that she would like to take him home and look after him but that didn’t work and she is left feeling bad for her brother.

She closed her statement by reiterating that her brother deserved his own home. “No one should need to live a life in hospital anyway. I want XXX to have his own place with support, I think he deserves it given what he has been through”.

Then there was a statement from a Nurse Consultant who had worked with Patient 4 since he left Whorlton Hall, and had also previously supported him. She told the court she had “a clear baseline to fully understand the impact this has had on him”.

She said when he was moved from Whorlton Hall, they were told Patient 4 was under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act but no paperwork was handed over on his admission. She told the court there had been a delay in obtaining the documentation, and on receipt of it under scrutiny it became clear the evidence was that the Section 3 had not been renewed and had therefore lapsed.

She said there was an immediate assessment of Patient 4 and he was detained under the Mental Health Act on 23 May 2019, but that there was a period from 9 February to 23 May 2019 “where he was illegally detained”.

Her statement continued that on admission Patient 4’s diabetes was not managed which led to further complications and that he now has considerable complex needs, with venous ulcers to both lower legs requiring ongoing treatment, and a risk to the limb.

She said Patient 4 also presents with hypervigilance due to the trauma he experiences at Whorlton Hall, and that “significantly impacts on how he views and accepts support”. She said there are challenges to get Patient 4 to engage in his treatment plans which leads to compromises, which in turn has an impact on his deterioration and healing process.

She told the court that Patient 4 had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and he lives in a state of constant hypervigilance. To such a degree that staff assessed him for dementia. She described how his needs were not met, which impacted on his trust and led to trauma.

Patient 4, the court were told, is unable to focus and his reaction is fight or flight to any triggers reminding him of Whorlton Hall. She said he still will not sleep in a bed, and will only sleep occasionally in a chair or nap on the toilet as he feels that he needs to be on guard constantly.

She described how Patient 4 had developed a mistrust of support staff, and that there were increasing displays of challenging behaviour where he’d make verbal threats to a higher intensity and frequency than was previously the case. She said that all of this impacted on his physical and mental health and resulted in a long stay in hospital for him.

Patient 6

Finally Ms Richardson read to the court a statement from Patient 6’s responsible clinician who had known him since July 2020. He said he had been asked to report on the impact on Patient 6 of his experiences at Whorlton Hall, but he could do no more than infer his experience as he doesn’t have first hand knowledge.

He told the court at Whorlton Hall Patient 6 was nursed with constant CCTV and female staff were not part of the team. In his current placement the team consists of male and female staff.

He said Patient 6 had difficulties with trusting people and that in his environment he would walk with his arms across his chest in front of him. He said Patient 6 had low self esteem and would make comments about himself, calling himself “fat boy” and “knob head”. Patient 6, he told the court, had difficulties receiving positive feedback. He had suffered from hypervigilance and constant scanning of his environment, although that had now abated.

He said [missed] and he was incontinent and adapted a crouching position attempting to bite staff’s lower limbs when he is feeling under threat. He told the court this had happened when another patient moved and he was fearful he was being moved. He also engaged in self harming behaviour.

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