Stoke Mandeville hospital ‘still putting children at risk’
Independent study of Buckinghamshire hospital’s child protection policy criticises it as ‘vague’ on eve of Savile reports
Sunday 15 February 2015 00.05 GMT
On the eve of the publication of two explosive reports into the abuses – thought to involve more than 60 victims – committed by Jimmy Savile at Stoke Mandeville, an independent study of child protection policy at the Buckinghamshire hospital claims that it still puts children at risk.
Two years after Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust claimed that it had revised policy, following the initial revelations about Savile’s two decades of abuse at the hospital, the children’s safety campaigning group Mandate Now says that the trust’s “vague” policy offers little support to junior staff who want to report their suspicions.
Former staff have said that Savile and other sexual abusers at Stoke Mandeville capitalised on a “bullying” regime that left junior staff too frightened to report abuses and a senior management that ignored allegations.
These issues are expected to feature prominently when the Department of Health publishes a “lessons learned” report later this month, alongside Buckinghamshire NHS trust’s ownreport. It will bring to 29 the number of hospitals and other institutions that have been investigated since Savile died in 2011.
Delayed for nine months by the volume of evidence and by outstanding prosecutions, the Stoke Mandeville investigations, overseen by former barrister Kate Lampard, are expected to provide details of even more alleged crimes than a similar report into Savile’s activities at Leeds Infirmary, where 64 victims came forward. It was published in June last year, but failed to find any fault in senior management.
But the Stoke Mandeville report is likely to be different. Liz Dux, of the solicitors Slater and Gordon, represents 44 people who claim to have been assaulted by Savile at the hospital, some as children, others as staff. Dux told the Observer that her clients, most of whom have been interviewed by the two inquiries, had evidence that management – including a senior nursing sister – were informed about Savile’s abuses. “The scale is extraordinary. Savile was absolutely indiscriminate. He assaulted children, autograph hunters, nurses, people who worked in the chapel,” said Dux.
Savile had a flat at the hospital and his own office beside the children’s wards. He appears to have been allowed access to medical records. Staff who worked there have said that their only recourse when the DJ visited the hospital was to tell children to pretend to be asleep if he visited their ward.
Two former senior doctors at Stoke Mandeville have been accused of rape and other abuses of children at the hospital at the same time, though there is no evidence yet that they colluded with Savile. One, Bruce Bailey is dead; the other, Michael Salmon, was jailed last Thursday for 18 years, having been found guilty of eight indecent assaults and two rapes of girls aged 12 to 18.
Stoke Mandeville’s former director of nursing and a now-retired Thames Valley police detective have already said that their concerns about Savile’s abuse of girls were dismissed by authorities. “Subtle bullying” by hospital managers helped maintain Savile’s extraordinary power and freedom at the hospital, Christine McFarlane, former director of nursing and patient care, told the BBC.
Savile’s clout came from the millions in donations – no exact figure is known – he raised for Stoke Mandeville and its spinal injuries work. He also worked in wards as a volunteer from the mid-1960s. In 1988 he was appointed to the trust that then managed the hospital by health minister Edwina Currie.
Mandate Now – which is campaigning for a legal duty to report suspicions of abuse to a third party – has audited child protection policies at schools, the BBC and other institutions. The current one for Buckinghamshire conforms “to the bare statutory minimums”, it says. The 53-page document leaves many uncertainties, including who is responsible for protecting children and deciding whether suspected abuses “should” or “must” be reported to independent authorities. “Many institutions which have had serious safeguarding failures have subsequently been found to have similarly vague safeguarding arrangements,” says the Mandate Now analysis.
It says key information is missing – like a promised phone number for nurses to report suspicions. Web links in the policy document to important information from outside authorities are broken or do not work.
The reports into Stoke Mandeville are unlikely to lead to any further prosecutions, because there is no law that makes the inaction of senior management a criminal offence. Reporting of alleged abuse in schools, hospitals and other institutions to an outside party is at the discretion of managers.
“The victims I represent find it inconceivable that no one can be prosecuted,” said Dux. “These people were complacent and nothing can be done about it. Even if it’s found that the senior management of the time deliberately turned a blind eye, there’s nothing that can be done, because we don’t have a law.”
Tom Perry of Mandate Now, which audited the Buckinghamshire NHS trust child protection policy, wants legislation to make reporting of abuse allegations obligatory, as it is in many countries. “Discretionary reporting has failed for 65 years. It is a key reason why we now have child sexual abuse inquiries in England, Wales and Scotland.”
Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said “it took its safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously”. Since the first Savile revelations, it said, “We have strengthened our internal processes, for example, by introducing a comprehensive training strategy; by appointing named safeguarding leads within the trust; and through the launch of an awareness campaign to enable staff to speak out safely … We are never complacent and are always working to strengthen our approach.”
PRIME MINISTER David Cameron was under pressure to investigate top Tory officials last night following claims they plotted a paedophilia smear campaign against “senior Labour figures.” Crusading Labour MP Tom Watson went public yesterday over his month-long hunt for answers on the allegations, which surfaced at a dinner date involving a senior Daily Telegraph journalist: here.