A JUDGE has demanded to know why a hospital employed a convicted killer who went on to abuse vulnerable patients.

Former care assistant Alison Richardson – convicted of manslaughter after stabbing her ex-partner in 1993 - was captured on CCTV abusing a patient at The Priory hospital in Middleton St George, near Darlington, in 2012.

Footage recorded in September 2012 shows care assistant Richardson jamming a bin onto a patient’s head following a “tussle".

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Darlington Magistrates Court was told yesterday (Tuesday) that on another occasion Richardson put her hands around the throat of the same patient in a “throttling position” before shaking her back and forth and poking her in the ribs.

District Judge Andrew Meachin said it was greatly disturbing that Richardson – whose defence solicitor, Graham Hunsley, described the assaults as horseplay gone a step too far - had been employed to care for vulnerable people, despite having fully disclosed her “very significant conviction”.

The 46-year-old, now living in East Yorkshire, had initially been employed as a domestic worker by Affinity Healthcare who promoted her to care assistant before the mental health facility was taken over by The Priory.

While at the hospital, she worked on the Jasmine Ward, a medium secure unit for women with complex mental health needs.

The Priory has now issued an apology to Richardson’s victim, with a spokesman describing the abuse as isolated and saying the decision to employ her was taken while the facility was under a previous ownership.

Judge Meachin said: “It is remarkable that they have employed someone in these circumstances.

“A vulnerable person’s unit employing somebody with that kind of conviction and putting them effectively in charge - the public are not going to be impressed.

“A woman with a very serious previous conviction was employed by a company and worked one-to-one with vulnerable people, was given no training and was allowed to embark on horseplay which involved an amount of violence – it was a recipe for disaster.

“One would hope this organisation has now reviewed their way of thinking as, reading between the lines, they could have been the ones subject to a criminal investigation.

“This case has disturbed me greatly and goes beyond this defendant. She herself may be the victim of circumstances.”

Richardson - who pleaded guilty to two counts of assault by beating and saw five other charges dropped – was dismissed by The Priory when the abuse came to light.

Mr Hunsley said in mitigation that his client had been trying to entertain patients to stop them becoming bored in their rooms. He also said there were other members of staff present when the incidents happened.

The hospital was criticised by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in February 2013 for putting patients at “significant risk” by failing to conduct risk assessments relating to the suitability of employees to work with vulnerable people.

A spokesman said: “Individuals working at the hospital at the time did not follow company policies and procedures. This has been dealt with, and under the new senior management at the hospital a robust review has been undertaken.

"Those concerned no longer work at the hospital.

"The CQC has recently deemed the hospital to be fully compliant with this standard.”

He also said that the hospital had a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, has robust safeguarding procedures and “does not tolerate any behaviour that falls below the highest professional standards of respect, kindness and dignity that we expect all our staff to provide.”

He declined to comment on how many allegations of abuse had been investigated at the hospital in recent years, but did confirm that one other case of abuse had been substantiated.

He said: “In all cases where allegations of abuse are made, these are thoroughly investigated and timely notifications are made to relevant regulators.

“In the three years to end of 2013 only two allegations involving two employees have been substantiated across the entire hospital.

“In each case tough action was taken, including dismissal and prosecution.”

As reported in The Northern Echo last week, The Priory also faced recent criticism from the CQC for putting patients’ health at risk by failing to meet their nutritional needs after an inspection found out of date food, restricted access to water and poor record keeping.

Richardson will be sentenced later this month and has been granted unconditional bailed until then.