Four former care workers at a specialist hospital unit have been found guilty of ill-treating vulnerable patients after an undercover reporter recorded them on covert camera footage.

Peter Bennett, Matthew Banner, Ryan Fuller and John Sanderson, were all convicted of a variety of charges following a lengthy trial at Teesside Crown Court.

Five of their co-accused – Sarah Banner, Karen McGhee, Darren Lawton, Niall Mellor and Sabah Mahmood – were all cleared of all charges.

Judge Chris Smith warned the four convicted care workers that custody was a possibility as he released them on unconditional bail until a sentencing hearing in the summer.

Read more: Pictures of four men convicted for ill treatment of patients at Whorlton Hall

The footage was used in a Panorama documentary exposing the alleged psychological abuse of vulnerable patients with learning disabilities or autism.

Jurors had heard how several vulnerable patients were targeted by the accused and they were tormented or verbally abused.

The defendants had faced a total of 27 offences after the reporter used a hidden camera at the 17-bed independent unit for people with complex needs in January and February 2019.

The BBC sent reporter Olivia Davies undercover to work at the unit, using a hidden camera to show the care offered by staff.

Jurors had heard how the patients, who were detained under the Mental Health Act and required 24-hour care, were distressed as they were verbally abused, mocked and wound up by some of the staff at the hospital.

Opening the case last month, Anne Richardson, prosecuting, said: “It would appear that there was something of a culture of inappropriate behaviour within Whorlton Hall at the relevant time.”

The Northern Echo: Peter BennettPeter Bennett (Image: The Northern Echo)

Peter Bennett said on camera he had invented an imaginary “man button” to summon male staff for a female patient who had clearly said she did not want men to look after her.

He was found guilty of two charges of ill-treatment relating to two female patients, on January 6 and February 24, 2019.

Matthew Banner was involved in several incidents where he was caught on camera aggravating one of the vulnerable patients.

He was found guilty of five charges all relating to the same patient at Whorlton Hall on separate occasions between January 6 and February 22, 2019.

They were both cleared of one charge.

The Northern Echo: Matthew BannerMatthew Banner (Image: The Northern Echo)

Ryan Fuller, 27, was heard to call a resident a “bitch”, and when he heard of more patients coming to the unit, he spoke of “how much fun he would have with them, and said ‘more abuse’.” He was found guilty of two charges of ill-treatment or wilful neglect against patients January 19 and February 2, 2019.

The Northern Echo: Ryan FullerRyan Fuller (Image: The Northern Echo)

John Sanderson, 25, said he had repeatedly unplugged a patient’s phone while the resident was speaking to his sister, resulting in the patient becoming so agitated he smashed up the phone. He was found guilty of one charge of care worker ill-treatment or wilful neglect of an individual in February 2019.

The Northern Echo: John SandersonJohn Sanderson (Image: The Northern Echo)

The convictions at Teesside Crown Court followed a lengthy investigation by Durham Constabulary’s Major Crime Team.

Detective Chief Superintendent David Ashton said: “This case raises concerns, particularly for those who have vulnerable relatives or friends who require specialist care.

"We hope that the successful prosecution of the defendants in this case sends a clear message that the abuse of vulnerable people in specialist care settings will not be tolerated.”

“Durham Constabulary have worked closely with other agencies to prioritise the safety of those patients who, sadly, had suffered from the abuse which was exposed by the BBC Panorama documentary.

"We hope that the action taken provides the patients, their families and many other people involved in specialist care an element of reassurance."

Within 36 hours of the Panorama programme being aired, ten carers employed at Whorlton Hall were arrested at their home addresses and interviewed by investigators.

A thorough investigation was conducted by the Constabulary’s Major Crime Team working through several months of camera footage, as well as significant amounts of documentary records and witness evidence.

Detective Chief Superintendent David Ashton added: “We very much hope this action gives confidence to anyone who may be concerned about abuse in a care environment to speak out and report such matters.”

Peter Bennett, 52, of Redworth Road, Billingham; Matthew Banner, from Faulkner Road, Newton Aycliffe; John Sanderson, 25, of Cambridge Avenue, Willington, Ryan Fuller, 26, from of Deerbolt Bank, Barnard Castle; will all return to court on July 7 for sentence.

They were released on bail until then.