Friday, 7 August 2015


Business owner’s first mistake over employee

Her son was killed in industrial accident

 Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine. 

A prominent safety campaigner has criticised the authorities’ treatment of a dying businesswoman. 
Linda Whelan’s care company in Bishop Auckland was closed down after she was prosecuted for breaching safeguarding laws for the first time.

Diagnosed earlier this year with bowel cancer and given six months to live, Whelan had herself become a health and safety campaigner after her son died in a fire at his workplace.

Now Hilda Palmer, co-ordinator of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, says “justice has been turned upside down” for Whelan.

Whelan set up Unique Home Care in 2002. A domiciliary care company, it grew to have 200 clients under the care of 90 staff with contracts from Darlington Borough Council and Durham County Council among others.

The business was inspected annually by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which in August 2013 raised no cause for concern.

But in late 2013 a client reported the loss of some money after a UHC worker, Veronica Newton, had completed her home visit. 

In a previous job, Newton had been placed on the Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) list of care workers who have harmed vulnerable adults in the past, following a theft in a client’s home.

But for her job interview with UHC she forged a letter from Durham Constabulary recommending that her name be removed from the POCA list. 

Following the UHC client’s complaint, Whelan discovered Newton should not have been working with vulnerable adults and she was sacked.

Whelan handed over Newton's file to the police. Newton was convicted of fraud and theft. An eight month prison sentence was suspended for two years. 

The CQC then ruled that UCH was failing in a number of areas including clients being inadequately protected from the risk of abuse and Whelan pleaded guilty at the Magistrates Court on 16 July 2014 to “allowing a person to engage in an activity regulated by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006”. She received a conditional discharge for six months, the minimum sentence at a magistrates court. 

The CQC told Whelan, an experienced care worker before going into business, that she must remove herself from UHC's day-to-day operations. 

Whelan employed a new manager to run the UCH but closed the company in April this year after the CQC rated the company as inadequate in four out of five categories. 

Whelan said: “Whereas other care companies would have sacked Newton I believe they would have avoided going to the police for fear of damaging their business. I felt I was doing the right thing. I had successfully undertaken hundreds of staff checks before and was harshly treated for making one mistake.”

Whelan’s 23-year-old son Craig, a steeplejack, died in 2002 when he was helping demolish a chimney at Bolton company Carnaud Metal Box and fire broke out.

Three Metal Box managers admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by knowing the chimney was unsafe and failing to pass on information that it was “flammable and toxic”. The three men said they had not received sufficient health and safety training. Fines totalling £17,000 were imposed on the company.

Following her son’s death Whelan became a founder of the Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) campaigning group, which is assisted by the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre. With 142 people killed at work in 2014-15, FACK wants “government action to halt the complacency about deaths at work and introduce decent laws which will bring dangerously negligent bosses to justice”.

Palmer said: “What has happened to Linda Whelan is not good enough. Justice has been turned upside down. I think the fact the magistrates imposed the minimum sentence indicates their sympathies. Linda has been badly let down by a state that allows a firm that was responsible for her son's death to pay a small fine. Yet she makes a mistake and ends up losing a previously very well run business, which I know she wanted to see continue under her son, Dean's, direction.”

A CQC spokesperson said: “We are satisfied that the findings of our reports and judgements are correct. Consistency and fairness are core principles that underpin our work… In addition any regulatory decision that CQC takes is open to challenge by a registered provider through a variety of appeal processes.”

Whelan – who has refused treatment for her illness and wants to “die with dignity” – has requested all CQC's materials on her. She has been told she needs to submit a Freedom of Information request and will be charged £750 for the retrieval of the information. 

She said: “I will pay it. I want my family to go through it carefully after my death as I believe what CQC has done requires further investigation.”

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