'Ruthless' day centre manager made service users 'conform', court told

'Ruthless' day centre manager made service users 'conform', court told

By Adele Forrest | 26/11/2020

'Ruthless' day centre manager made service users 'conform', court told
Barbara Sykes arriving at Sheffield Crown Court


TWO support workers have told a court how they witnessed a “ruthless” day centre manager dragging an autistic woman by her leg down a corridor and out of a fire exit. 

Emma Foster and Lynsey Sutheren claim they witnessed Barbara Sykes pulling the young woman with complex needs off a chair before hauling her into the garden at the Reach Day Centre. 

The incident at the RMBC-run service, based at the Elliott Centre on Badsley Moor Lane, is alleged to have happened between 2011 to 2013 when the autistic woman was in her early 20s. 

It is also claimed assistant manager Julie Paul-Slack saw the incident and failed to take action. 

Sykes (64), of Church Street, Rawmarsh, is on trial at Sheffield Crown Court accused of neglecting ten clients, aged between 18 and 66, between 2008 and 2017. 

Paul-Slack (56), of Middle Lane, Clifton, denies ill treatment of a person lacking mental capacity and wilful neglect of a person lacking mental capacity.

Giving evidence on Monday, Mrs Foster described Sykes’ management style as “ruthless”, “unapproachable” and “aggressive”.

Prosecutor Mr Tom Storey asked her to explain what she meant by ruthless. 

Mrs Foster replied: “She seemed to lack empathy and feeling.” 

Mr Storey asked: “Do you mean that in relation to staff or service users?” 

She replied: “All.”

Mrs Foster said Sykes had often shouted and aired issues loudly in front of staff, family members and clients — adding: “I’ve just never seen that before — ever.” 

This had caused “low morale” and staff had “crept around trying to keep a low profile” so as not to upset Sykes, Mrs Foster said.

The service user Sykes is accused of dragging down a corridor had learning difficulties and cerebral palsy, the court heard, and her care plan stated she didn’t like noise or sitting with large groups of people at lunchtime. 

But Sykes’ approach had been to make service users “conform” to a different way from how they had been treated at school, said Mrs Foster. 

On the day of the incident, Mrs Foster said, the woman — who we have chosen not to name — had been having a bad episode in the dining room.

Mrs Foster said it had been “horrible” to see the woman displaying difficult behaviour “particularly when she didn’t need to be there” and could have eaten in a smaller room. 

It is claimed Sykes came out of her office, walked over to the woman and put her hand on the back of her cardigan, pulling her back. 

Mrs Foster added: “There was a little bit of a tussle and (she) came off the chair backwards and then Barbara got hold of her leg and, sort of, pulled her down the length of the corridor of the Elliott Centre to the back door. 

“We had to pass through an internal door and (she) slightly hit her head on that.” 

The court heard the woman had been wearing a splint on her other leg at the time.

Both witnesses claimed they had tried to protect the woman’s head with their hands from hitting the metal door frame of the fire exit door. 

Mrs Foster added: “Barbara put her outside and shouted she could stay out there until she calms down.”

Once the service user was locked out, Mrs Foster claimed, the defendant walked back to the dining room after the “shocking” incident. 

Ms Sutheren estimated the woman had been dragged for around 15 metres during the 90-second incident. 

She said she had “begged and pleaded” with Paul-Slack to report the incident but Paul-Slack had replied that “her hands were tied”. 

The court also heard the service user had been dragged along a corridor by another staff member, Simon Parkin, in October 2013 which he had been prosecuted over. 

The trial continues.

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