Page last updated at 18:24 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Care home driver jailed for abuse

James Watts
James Watts was jailed for 12-and-a-half years

A residential home employee who sexually abused the disabled women in his care has been jailed.

Exeter Crown Court was told James Watts, from Chulmleigh in north Devon, thought he would not be caught because his victims could not communicate.

Watts was convicted of six offences against four physically and mentally disabled women, but cleared of seven other charges, including rape.

The 57-year-old was jailed for a total of 12-and-a-half years.

During the three-week trial, one of the victims gave her evidence by blinking her eyes - to answer "yes" or "no" to questions from prosecution and defence lawyers, while others used their heads to press buttons on their wheelchair headrests.

You descended to a level of depravity which is quite beyond comprehension
Judge Graham Cottle

Judge Graham Cottle said it had been the most difficult case he had presided over.

He told Watts ordinary members of the public would view his offences with "utter revulsion".

"You descended to a level of depravity which is quite beyond comprehension," Judge Cottle said.

The court heard Watts worked as a driver at the residential home in north Devon, which cannot be identified, between 2005 and 2008.

The home's residents, who were of both sexes and aged between 20 and 50, had severe disabilities.

Prosecutor Paul Dunkels QC told the jury Watts had abused four of the women residents who were unable to resist or give their consent because of their disabilities.

Three victims had cerebral palsy which meant they could not move unaided or stand and needed a hoist to be moved around.

'Completely powerless'

A fourth victim who had made an initial statement to police was unable to give evidence because her condition had deteriorated before the trial began, and she could no longer communicate.

A Japanese woman, who volunteered at the home, gave her evidence via video link from Japan.

She told the jury she had seen Watts touch one of the victims inappropriately while he was feeding her.

Of the victim who blinked her answers, Mr Dunkels said:"We cannot ask her what happened, what did he do."

But he said she was able to confirm that it was Watts who touched various parts of her body.

Watts had denied all the charges.

Video recorded

Judge Cottle said: "It is beyond the comprehension of normal people that somebody can behave as you did towards these four ladies - each one cripplingly disabled and wheelchair bound - completely powerless to prevent you from doing what you chose to do."

Ann Hampshire from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it had been a particularly unusual case because of the victims' severe disabilities and limited communication.

The CPS arranged to have the victims' initial accounts video recorded and played to the jury.

Outside court, the families of two of the victims said: "The result of this case recognises that those who are most vulnerable do have a voice of their own and as much right to justice as any members of the public."

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