Disabled Abuse Allegations in Gibraltar
Peter Tatchell backs parents' demand for a Public Inquiry.
Chief Minister criticised for "not acting on parents' concerns".
Gibraltar Government accused of "indifference, silence and neglect".
Gibraltar - 1 October 2007
Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, was heckled by protesters tonight over allegations of abuse at a disabled care home on The Rock.
As he arrived to attend a televised public debate with other political leaders ahead of Gibraltar's 11 October general election, the head of the government of Gibraltar faced chants of "Caruana Shame! You're to blame."
It was a rare anti-government protest in an increasingly autocratically-run Gibraltar, where a climate of fear and intimidation is growing.
The protesters, who comprised mostly disabled people and their families, carried placards demanding an independent public inquiry.
They were joined by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who is currently in Gibraltar on a fact-finding mission at the invitation of local human rights groups, including disabled activists.
A number of past and present employees, senior social services staff and parents of patients, have made serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Gibraltar's Dr Giraldi Home for disabled children and adults.
According to parents of Dr Giraldi residents, these allegations have never been properly investigated.
They accuse the government of Gibraltar of "indifference, silence and neglect."
Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, is being criticised for "not acting on parents' concerns." Protesters say that he "bears ultimate responsibility for what happens at the Dr Giraldi Home and that he has, so far, ignored calls for an independent investigation."
The allegations, variously concerning past and present conditions at Dr Giraldi, are unproven, but demand a public inquiry. They include allegations of: insufficient health and safety procedures, poor controls on access to medication, severe understaffing, few employees specifically trained in disability issues or in dealing with challenging behaviour, a substandard fire alarm system, serious medication errors, missing class A drugs, residents left at night unattended, broken wheelchairs, patients' / respite users' personal money unaccounted for, and alleged sexual abuse.
"We are not saying these allegations are true," said Felix Alvarez, chair of the equality rights group, GGR, which co-organised the protest with parents and other family members.
"But that they are sufficiently grave to require a thorough-going independent public inquiry. An inquiry would sort fact from fiction.
"Although I have much sympathy for the many caring, compassionate staff members at Dr Giraldi, these allegations may suggest systemic failings," he said.
Alvarez's concerns are echoed by Peter Tatchell, who has met with family members and disabled rights campaigners during his visit to The Rock:
"The best way to resolve the concerns of parents and staff is for the Chief Minister to authorise a full and frank investigation," said Mr Tatchell.
"It is astonishing that no public inquiry has taken place, despite these allegations having been first made three years ago.
"Neither the families nor anybody else understands why the Chief Minister has failed to set up a public inquiry. Both the patients and their families deserve justice," said Mr Tatchell.
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