Carer cleared of ill-treating disabled woman

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 12:58 23/05/2014

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A woman accused of grabbing the head of a woman with Down syndrome and holding it close to a stove element has been found not guilty.

After deliberating for three hours, the jury found Deborah Michelle Waugh not guilty yesterday of ill-treating a vulnerable adult, following a four-day trial at Nelson District Court. She had denied the charge, that related to a 25-year-old woman.

Waugh was employed as a support worker and facilitator at a Collingwood St house for people with intellectual disabilities.

She was employed by Intellectual Disabilities Empowerment in Action (Idea) as a live-in worker who helped with the day-to-day care of three residents.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber told the trial that Waugh repeatedly physically and verbally abused the woman between October 31 to December 25, 2012, creating a fearful, unhealthy and unpleasant atmosphere.

In one incident Waugh grabbed the woman's hand and placed it onto a stove element that was recently turned on.

She then grabbed the woman by the back of the head and pushed her face close to the element, causing her great distress, Webber said.

The Crown said that any complaints made to Idea were covered up by Waugh's manager and friend.

Defence counsel Brett Daniell-Smith said none of the events occurred.

Although Waugh was a gruff woman, she had a kind and gentle heart.

The defence did not call any witnesses and Waugh did not take the stand.

IHC general manager of programmes Janine Stewart said Idea received a complaint, which was investigated.

Following the investigation, Idea decided to terminate Waugh's employment.

"We are not investigating an alleged coverup.

"But we are reviewing our practices and processes to ensure our internal policies were followed.

"We are confident that the decision we made in relation to Deborah Waugh's employment was the correct decision."

Police made the decision to prosecute Waugh following the findings from their own investigation, she said.

The Collingwood St residence was shut down in January this year. Stewart said it was not as a result of the investigation but because the people who were living there wanted a change in housing.

Waugh is currently employed by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board's Intellectual Disability Support Services.

Board chief executive Chris Fleming said Waugh disclosed the allegations to the board.

"We undertook an internal investigation and we took all necessary steps to protect both clients we care for and Waugh from any further potential allegations or harm.

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"We welcome the court's outcome and are pleased that we can now all move forward."

- The Nelson Mail

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