Massive rise in abuse of the vulnerable

REPORTED abuse of vulnerable people in Suffolk has risen more than 1000 per cent in the last three years, The Evening Star can reveal today.The sharp increase reflects a determined crackdown on the crime and has been met with calls to create tougher laws to protect vulnerable people, including the elderly and disabled.

REPORTED abuse of vulnerable people in Suffolk has risen more than 1000 per cent in the last three years, The Evening Star can reveal today.

The sharp increase reflects a determined crackdown on the crime and has been met with calls to create tougher laws to protect vulnerable people, including the elderly and disabled.

And disturbingly, in 99 per cent of cases, the victim not only knows the perpetrator – but they are the very person the victim relies on to report the incident in the first place.

Bill Nicol was brought in to spearhead Suffolk's multi-agency offensive in 2002 with the new Adult Safeguarding Service. When he started, there were just 50 referred cases, but this year he expects that figure to be nearer 600.

Mr Nicol was hired in the wake of the damning Longcare enquiry in 1998 which exposed weaknesses in the way Buckinghamshire social services handled allegations of abuse in a home for people with learning disabilities.

It was the catalyst for a series of measures introduced by the Department of Health and has indirectly led to this hands-on supervisory organisation in Suffolk.

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Mr Nicol said: "The figure will continue to rise because we have started making the public aware of adult abuse and they will be coming forward in higher numbers. It does not mean an increase of abuse in Suffolk."

To support his work, Mr Nicol wants specific laws put in place to deal with these types of abuse cases.

He said: "Vulnerable people come under the same law as you or I. There is no crime on its own for abusing a vulnerable person. There needs to be the same checks for vulnerable adults as for children."

The issue was re-ignited after last week's court case involving a severely disabled Ipswich man who was assaulted by a family friend while he was asleep at home.

Jan Ryder was convicted of assaulting Darren Platts after she had helped his parents put him to bed.

Darren Platts' mother, Jennifer Dowd, today agreed that more needs to be done to remove obstacles in the system.

She said: "There is a damn good management team at my son's care home, but in the past they have had managers who haven't been what they should have.

"If staff see something, not all of them will come forward because they are frightened to lose their jobs."

The difficulty, says Mr Nicol, is making people aware of the signs of abuse and breaking down the domestic and workplace barriers.

With more than 27,000 people working in care in Suffolk, Mr Nicol is resolute in his bid to equip people with the necessary skills and confidence to report abuse and ensure it becomes a social taboo.

Mr Nicol also sees glaring gaps in the way cases of abuse can be brought to light.

Out of 369 referral cases in 2003-04, only nine were reported by the victim, leaving 300 dependent on their family or carers.

The Adult Safeguarding Service has trained 12,000 staff from the police, private care and nurses over the last two years and handed out 24,000 handbooks.

"All these things are contributing to the fact that people are more confident, aware and better educated than they were," said Mr Nicol. "Before they were unclear as to where to go or what to do."

Chris Lane, of Suffolk social services, said: "The rise in number of cases is a very positive development. What we are progressing towards is to make abuse of any sort socially unacceptable, like drink driving.

"Whether it is a person with disabilities or a frail person or a person with learning disabilities, they must have exactly the same right to dignity, fulfilment or privacy as you or I."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Vulnerable people are protected by legislation, there just isn't, for example, a Vulnerable Adult's Act.

"The government regards abuse of vulnerable adults and older people as unacceptable in all its forms and is determined to root it out."

She added that an independent regulator inspects service providers and can close them down if they fail to meet them.

Is enough being done to stop the abuse of vulnerable people? Are you a carer with a story to tell? Call the Star news desk on 01473 324789 or e-mail starnews@eveningstar.co.uk

TIMELINE: The crackdown on abuse

1998 – Longcare Enquiry condemns Buckinghamshire social services for its weaknesses in handling complaints of abuse of people with learning disabilities.

2000 – Care Standards Act regulates services for vulnerable people

2000 – Department of Health publishes No Secrets, a framework for councils to work with police, the NHS and regulators to tackle and prevent abuse.

2001-02 – 50 cases of abuse referred in Suffolk

2002 – Government introduces national minimum standard for care homes under the Care Standards Act

2002-03 – Suffolk receives 154 cases of abuse

2003-04 – That figures rises to 369

2004 – Protection of Vulnerable Adults scheme prevents dangerous or unscrupulous people working with vulnerable people in care homes or those in their own homes

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