Care workers jailed over degrading 'pranks' on vulnerable man during Devon holiday

 Sean Watkins and Laura Paul - BPM MEDIA
Sean Watkins and Laura Paul, who were jailed for 18 months each Credit: BPM Media

Three care workers have been jailed for playing cruel 'pranks' on a vulnerable, disabled man they took on holiday to north Devon.

The court heard the 54-year-old man - who is deaf, has anxiety, epilepsy and moderate learning difficulties - had been "really looking forward to going away for a break".

But during the stay in Bideford, his carers subjected him to psychological abuse.

The carers filmed him screaming as they put limpets on his bare back and they also barricaded him into his room and made him wear a bucket on his head.

When interviewed by police, one of the carers said she was "having a laugh" while another described it as "a bit of fun".

Daniel Gower, 23, Laura Paul, 29, and Sean Watkins, 23, all admitted ill treatment of the man while in the position of a care worker.

They were each jailed for 18 months by a judge at Gloucester Crown Court over the abuse.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Ian Lawrie QC said: “This is about as bad as it gets in terms of ill treatment and humiliation.

“This was a person who is highly vulnerable and is in the care of others. This was psychologically and harmful.

"I suspect what we have been told about is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Prosecutor Giles Nelson said the victim requires 24-hour care and is prescribed various medications to combat the increased effect of tension and stress.

At the time of the offence, he was being cared for at Brook Lodge in Longhope. The court heard each year, its residents are taken on holiday for "a change of scenery".

The victim was taken to a countryside barn conversion near Bideford in Devon by Gower, Paul and Watkins in September 2018.

The prosecutor said: "When they returned back to the lodge six days later Amy McGreggor, a night support worker, noticed a distinct change in [the victim's] personality. She described him as being upset and very angry."

The court heard the man wrote her a short note indicating his concerns and when she raised her concerns with Gower he said the trio had "got drunk and been mean" to the victim.

He also confessed to Ms McGregor they had barricaded him in his room and made him wear a bucket on his head before sending her a video of the man in an uncompromising position on the beach.

Mr Nelson added: "Watkins also admitted his involvement to Ms McGregor and showed her a photograph of [the victim] wearing the bucket on his head and having clothes pegs attached to his top.

"Ms McGregor felt that she had no option but to report this matter to her supervisor."

The court was shown a video of the man screaming as limpets were placed on his back, and one of him being humiliated during an incontinence incident.

When questioned by police, Watkins said they were having "a bit of fun" while Paul brushed off her actions as "having a laugh".

Gloucester Crown Court

Judge Lawrie said: “These things obviously had a psychological impact on him. Seeing him scream when limpets were placed on his back was very distressing."

The court also heard from Jayne Case, who has been the man's social worker for the past 10 years. She said he was generally a happy person, but was now displaying signs of sadness and anxiety.

When she asked him why, he said the three defendants had been “bad people” and he did not want to talk about what had taken place.

Ms Case said she could not watch the videos without crying at the humiliation he suffered, saying it was very degrading for him.

The court was told both men admitted to the care home’s management they had been drinking alcohol and had put the clothes pegs on his back as a joke. Both men were dismissed by the company in November 2018.

Paul declined to attend any meetings with the management and subsequently resigned from her position in November 2018. She told police in interview they were “only having a laugh”.

She blamed her co-defendants for being behind the abuse. She stated she had to intervene when she felt things were getting out of hand. Watkins admitted in his police interview he had placed 10 pegs on the victim's clothing. He also conceded he made him wear a bucket on his head, saying it was "for a bit of fun".

He stated things had got out of proportion when they rearranged his furniture in his room but denied barricading him in.