B@st@rds from Bristol

Last night the BBC justified the licence fee! (In my opinion, anyway.)

Panorama is the longest running current affairs documentary programme in the world. It has an honourable record of investigative journalism which stretches back more than five decades. Last night they added another powerful and important chapter.

For those who didn’t see the programme it’s been difficult to avoid the fallout.

It brought to light the abuse of patients with learning disabilities at the privately run Winterbourne View in Bristol. I have long since ceased to be amazed at the human capacity for the inhumane, but I found the programme extremely harrowing. Bullying, abuse, physical and verbal assault are not easy things to watch, especially when perpetrated against those least able to defend themselves.

Wayne, a fit, fifteen stone man, trained in martial arts, squares up to a woman who does not fully understand what is going on. He dominates her physically, abuses her for no more reason than that she wouldn’t get out of bed, then he lies about it to authority. A bully AND a coward.

To me the most powerful image was Simone being held on the floor and taunted with the flowers that her mother had brought for her. A simple and small act of love utterly defiled. And for what? So that a repugnant scumbag called Graham could act out some sick Nazi control freak fantasy. The poor woman was outnumbered three to one and very clearly in deep distress.

Restraint should always be the course of last resort, and, only then, to prevent harm to the individual or the practitioner. No excuse ever lies in using it to satisfy the sordid power fantasies of a callous, ignorant and gratuitous bully.

We most of us have to go through the trauma at some point in our lives of handing a relation over into the care of others. It is a tremendous leap of trust and we do so in the belief that those charged with that trust will exercise the highest standards of care and professionalism. To have that trust betrayed is a cruel, cruel thing and today we should have sympathy only for the victims and their families.

A measure of the civilisation of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. On this test the staff of Winterbourne View fail. It would be very easy to say “Never Again” – it would also be facile in the extreme to suggest that we could design a system that is in no way open to abuse without stifling the undoubted good work that is being done to help vulnerable people by more committed and better trained staff.

The CEO of Castlebeck, which owns the place, has appeared and offered a full apology – quite rightly. It is, after all, in his own self-interest to get this thing sorted out. But some REAL shit needs to be thrown at the Care Quality Commission. They had these allegations served up to them on a plate and they failed to act. What is the point of having the commission if they don’t do something when the whistle gets blown?

Parliament needs to demand some answers.