Freeze Frame: Panorama – Undercover Care

Last night’s programme was one of the most shocking documentaries of 2011

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Footage of young people with autism and learning disabilities, being physically attacked by the staff of a care home, day after day. This would be a deeply shocking sight in a documentary filmed in the developing world, or in Britain in years gone by. But this was here and now: Winterbourne View, a privately run care hospital near Bristol, in 2011.

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Last night’s Panorama was an astounding piece of investigative journalism, but extremely hard to watch. A reporter spent five weeks undercover as a support worker at Winterbourne View, covertly filming what Panorama alleges were appalling breaches of trust by carers.

Physical restraint that care professionals interviewed by Panorama said was unnecessary and counter-productive was the norm. Worse, a peak audience of 4m viewers saw footage of vulnerable people being hit, taunted, smothered and, in the most shocking scene, soaked with cold water.

But the truly heartbreaking moment came when the secretly filmed footage was shown to the parents of Simone, a Winterbourne View resident who was regularly targeted by staff. We saw the parents’ reaction but could only imagine the depth of what they were feeling.

Joe Casey was the journalist under cover at Winterbourne View. “My experience at Winterbourne View will stay with me for a very long time,” he wrote on the Panorama website.  “I was watching on the sidelines, resisting putting a stop to this and blowing my cover.

“Simone was staring at me as she lay on the floor. I could not save Simone on that day. I had to resist my instinct to step in. I was there to gather the evidence that could help save others from a similar fate.

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“The way we treat people like Simone is a measure of our common humanity. By that measure we have failed.”