Ellen Kemp looks into the sexual abuse scandal involving vulnerable people that didn’t rock the nation.
In July 2005 the Kerr Haslam Inquiry reported its findings to the Minster of Health. Unlike of the Shipman inquiry or the inquiry into the deaths of babies in Bristol, this report has not made the headlines. The report that needed to unravel conspiracies of silence concerning 30 years of the sexual abuse of women psychiatric patients became itself a silent conspiracy to bring closure to this disgraceful episode.
This abuse of women psychiatric patients was done by senior consultants at Clifton Hospital in York between the 1960s and 1990s. Many persons knew what was happening and numerous complaints were made by patients and staff. But there was a failure to investigate the abuses committed by Dr William Kerr and Dr Michael Haslam, what did take place?
In 1983 Ms D 1 worked at Clifton Psychiatric hospital and a female patient reported that she had had a sexual affair with Dr Kerr that was now over. She also said that Kerr had had sexual relations with other patients, and one had even tried to commit suicide after being abused. Ms D expected that after she reported her concerns to senior members of the nursing staff that there would be an investigation into the complaint.
In fact these staff coerced the patient into signing note withdrawing the allegations. Repeated efforts by Ms D for an investigation into the complaint were stonewalled. In fact the nursing management took action against Ms D by moving her (demoting) to a geriatric ward. She was also placed on probation to monitor her performance. Ms D then circulated to clinical staff a dossier about what she knew, only to be advised by a Dr Rugg that if it wasn’t withdrawn she would be sacked.
In the meantime Ms D’s union COHSE give her full support. It further transpired that the hospital had a received another letter from the patient withdrawing the allegation against Kerr. In fact 2 members of the clinical staff had visited the patient (who had been discharged) in her own home to obtain the withdrawal letter.
Ten months after hearing the allegation Ms D began a new job as an unqualified nurse tutor at a Wakefield psychiatric hospital. She was seconded to the College of York and St Johns in York to undertake formal training as a nurse tutor. After being absent due to illness the College issued Ms D with final written warning.
Ms D’s protestations that the College had failed to follow procedures, and therefore had no grounds for issuing the warning were ignored. However her tutors let it be known that she was a troublemaker and a threat to the nursing profession. The College went on to dismiss Ms D from the course in June 1985.
In the meantime the York Health Authority was stalling on the complaint against Kerr. Only latter did it emerge that the College Principal involved in dismissing Ms D from college – a Dr McGregor - was also in fact an executive member of the York HA. After Ms D’s dismissal McGregor met with the other nurse tutor trainees and claimed that Ms D ‘had made false allegations against the College, she had refused to meet him, and she had used violent and abused language.’ Ms D’s nursing career was destroyed and she did not work in nursing again until 1997.
The Criminal Prosecutions
In 1996 a patient made a complaint against Kerr to the police, who were basically uninterested. After all, is it not madness if the mad complain against psychiatrists. Phil Willis Liberal MP for Harrogate decided to support her and after meeting a wall of silence he threatened to use his privilege and raise the issue in the Commons. The police were then instructed to begin an investigation. In all ‘726 people were interviewed, including 157 doctors. Of 1200 known former female patients, 120 complained of abuse. This abuse ranged from sexual suggestions and threats through uninvited touching and perverse intimacy to outright assault and rape. About 30 former patients complained of abuse by Haslam’.
Kerr’s case took 28 months to come to court because of the obstructions of his defence team. Eventually it was decided that he was unable to plead due to an ‘organic mental impairment’. This impairment did not stop him becoming president of his local golf club once the trial was over. The judge decided that the case should be put in front of another jury to ‘find the facts’. The trial began at Leeds Crown Court in December 2000 and the police and prosecution expected the trial to lost 3 months, however the judge made it clear that the trial was to be completed by Xmas.
The judge was full of other shenanigans. He constantly questioned the memories of the victims, and demanded that the jury make a decision on 12 charges in a day, unable to do this the jury was dismissed. In the end Kerr was found guilty on one charge of indecent assault –but of course this didn’t count - and his named placed on the register of sexual offenders. Not only had these former patients suffered sexual abuse while supposedly receiving psychiatric care, now there were abused a second time by the British criminal justless system.
York HA advised Haslam to retire in 1988, but he then went on to work in the NHS in Durham, where complaints continued. He was brought to trial in 2003 and was found guilty of rape and 4 charges of indecent assault. On appeal the rape charge was rescinded.
The aftermath and the Kerr-Haslam Inquiry.
Before both trials had finished Phil Willis MP and the ex-patients support group began to pressurize the Department of Health for a public inquiry. Its work only really began after the conviction of Haslam.
The inquiry chaired by Nigel Pleming QC from the outset sought to limit its impact. The inquiry was held in secret excluding the press and public. The ex-patients support group was allowed to attend but could not take notes during the proceedings. This is probably the main reason why there has been so little heard about it.
On hearing of the inquiry Ms D wanted to tell her story. As the only whistleblower involved it would seem obvious that her role would be central to any inquiry. However the Inquiry was obstructive about her participation. It failed to provide her with a solicitor even though every other parties were given one. She was not offered any protection from libel or slander, nor was she offered any financial support to attend or to organise the enormous amount of documentation that was available. This meant that the whistleblower was going to be denied the right to be heard twice over.
The Inquiry posed 3 questions; why were the patients’ protests not listened to; why were the opportunities to investigate abuse not taken; and why did the abuse go undetected for so long? For Ms D the Inquiry failed on all counts. It failed to find a conspiracy among the nursing and medical staff and the management in which Haslam and Kerr exercised maximum power ensured that their activities remained hidden.
No blame was to be attached to individuals whose culpable behaviour betrayed the patients in their care. It failed to examine why if health care professionals worked under codes of conduct and there were definite reporting procedures, these procedures were not used. And perhaps most importantly for Ms D if failed to find out how her career had been destroyed.
The Inquiry cost the taxpayer £3.2 million pounds, and the lawyers did well out of it. £300,000 was paid in compensation to those who claimed, about 10 ex-patients. Kerr and Haslam are retired and their cases were never examined by the General Medical Council. Ms D and all the other ex-patients have received nothing, another episode of in the history of the British justless system. Although the report runs to 995 pages it ‘…is itself evidence that the problem of the abuse of power stills blights the NHS…It is a disgraceful document, obviously motivated mainly by cynical thought concerning public relations and possible claims for compensation.’
[This article is based upon a critical review of the Kerr-Haslam Inquiry written by Phil Virden and published in Asylum: the Magazine for Democratic Psychiatry available from Asylum Associates, Limbrick Centre, Limbrick Road, Sheffield S6 2PE. All quotes are directly from this article. The full report and an executive summary is available from the Department of Health at www.dh.gov.uk]
- 1. Real name removed at the request of the individual