POLICE are investigating an allegation that a non-verbal 78-year-old woman was punched in the "upper belly" by a female carer in a group home at Corlette.
The care-provider is not-for-profit group New Horizons, one of three operators chosen by the NSW government to run group homes as it closed the Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra centres.
The woman, Marea Bourke, is believed to be the oldest person in the world with Angelman Syndrome, and has become an inspiration to people around the world who live with the condition and who follow her life online.
Marea has been in past Newcastle Herald articles about the residential centres closing.
The alleged punch is one of a number of incidents alleged to have occurred at the home on the night of Saturday, February 27, and came to light after another worker at the group home filed a formal incident report.
This triggered a mandatory report to police, who filed a Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) report the following Wednesday, March 3.
The COPS report says the carer was stood down on full pay pending an investigation.
There was no CCTV footage available, Bourke had no noticeable injuries and was unable to be asked about anything because she was non-verbal.
It would be up to the staff member who lodged the incident report to provide a witness statement.
The COPS report said the staff member had allegedly locked Marea's wheelchair in place "so she couldn't move" and slammed down her food and said "shut up and eat it".
When questioned by the staff member who later reported the incident, it is claimed she said: "I can't deal with her today."
The police report details further alleged verbal abuse and says that when the two of them were using a hoist to put Marea to bed, the carer "was pushing and throwing her arms around trying to adjust the sling to her body and then punched Bourke in the upper belly".
Later, the female staffer allegedly said Bourke was a "witch" who was "disrupting everyone here and she is better off somewhere else".
Marea Bourke's sister-in-law, Judy Bourke, is Marea's "Person Responsible" and "Financial Manager". She is seeking to replace the NSW Trustee and Guardian as Marea's guardian.
Judy Bourke said she was told very little about what had happened and it took a freedom of information application for the police to release the COPS report on Wednesday, March 17.
Appalled at what she read, Ms Bourke notified the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability - which has hearings in Sydney on the NDIS from Monday, May 24 - has also been informed.
Disability Royal Commission:
Ms Bourke said she was still waiting for New Horizons to "give me a proper account of what happened".
"Initially, I was waiting for people to tell me everything - I was trusting them," Ms Bourke said.
"I was extremely upset. I am still crying when I think about it. I kept waiting, expecting them to tell me more, but nothing came."
She said if the police had not advised her to apply by GIPAA [Government Information (Public Access) Act] for the police report, she "would still be in the dark".
Police media said yesterday that: "The matter is still under investigation and charges will depend on the evidence available."
New Horizons told the Herald on Saturday that it would "not be commenting on an open investigation".
"We take any allegation of this nature incredibly seriously and are following all appropriate steps and safeguards to investigate this accordingly," the organisation's chief customer service officer, Peter Orr, said by email.
Ms Bourke said she had written to successive ministers about her concerns for Marea's safety, including the present Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, who began the role two years ago this month.
Yesterday, Mr Ward's office said the NDIS safeguards commission was the appropriate body to deal with the situation.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said "many of us feared from the start for the welfare" of the residents of Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra in "small group home settings".
Concerns had been raised about the subsequent fatality rate, and now there were allegations of serious abuse.
"Residents and their families were fearful this would happen," Ms Washington said.
"They deserve so much better. Where are the safeguards, where is the proper oversight?"
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