Published by BBC NEWS - 27th April 2023
  • Published
Whorlton Hall

Four carers have been found guilty of ill-treating patients at a secure hospital, following a BBC Panorama investigation.

Nine former staff at Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, had faced a total of 27 charges. Five of those on trial have been cleared.

Prosecutors said defendants showed “contempt” for and mocked patients.

Lawyers for the defendants had argued they had been doing their best in challenging circumstances.

Those found guilty will be sentenced in July.

The specialist hospital for people with complex needs was privately run but funded by the NHS.

The BBC sent undercover reporter Olivia Davies to work at the unit for a Panorama documentary in 2019. Whorlton Hall has since closed.

Jurors at Teesside Crown Court delivered the mixed verdicts after two days of deliberation.

The nine accused faced the following number of charges of ill treatment of a person in care:

  • John Sanderson, 25, of Cambridge Avenue, Willington – two
  • Darren Lawton, 47, of Miners Crescent, Darlington – two
  • Niall Mellor, 26, of Lingmell Dene, Coundon, Bishop Auckland – two
  • Sara Banner, 33, of Faulkner Road, Newton Aycliffe – three
  • Matthew Banner, 43, of the same address – six
  • Ryan Fuller, 27, of Deerbolt Bank, Barnard Castle – 10
  • Sabah Mahmood, 27, of Woodland Crescent, Kelloe – one
  • Peter Bennett, 53, of Redworth Road, Billingham – three
  • Karen McGhee, 54, of Wildair Close, Darlington – two

Bennett was found guilty of two charges and cleared of one while Matthew Banner was found guilty on five counts and cleared of one.

Fuller was found guilty of two counts but cleared of eight and Sanderson was found guilty of one but cleared of another.

Ms McGhee, Mr Lawton, Ms Mahmood, Mr Mellor and Sara Banner were found not guilty of all charges against them.

Some of the defendants wept loudly as the verdicts were read out.


Bennett was convicted for “deliberately referencing and snapping balloons” in the presence of a female patient who did not like them.

Matthew Banner was guilty of ill-treating the same patient, who preferred female carers, by “threatening” that men would be sent to her room and making repeated references to balloons.

Sanderson was found guilty of threatening a male patient with violence and “goading him to fight”.

Fuller was guilty of instructing another male patient to lie on the floor to demonstrate a restraint and then simulating an assault on him by pretending to perform an “elbow drop” wrestling move from a chair.

He was also found guilty of “antagonising” another male patient and “encouraging” him to fight.

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