A disgraced care home worker who bullied elderly and vulnerable residents and who assaulted the whistleblower who told the authorities about her behaviour was jailed for four months.
Relatives of Cullen’s victims clapped in the public gallery of Lisburn Magistrates Court yesterday (Friday) as 41-year-old Lisa Cullen was taken away to the cells.
However, the west Belfast woman was freed moments later after District Judge Rosie Watters released her in her own bail of £500 pending an appeal against the sentence and potentially her convictions.
Jailing Cullen and labelling her as a “bully,” District Judge Watters told the care worker her offences were such that “nothing other than an immediate custodial sentence is merited.”
Following a contested hearing last November Cullen, from Lagmore Dale, Dunmurry, was convicted of seven counts of ill treating a total of five residents, two men and three women, at the Kilwee Nursing home in Dunmurry, on dates between 30 November 2012 and 31 December 2013.
On the day Judge Watters announced her convictions, Cullen “thumped” Crown witness and whistleblower Frances Gallagher in the back as she left court, calling her a “gimpy c***.”
Cullen was due to go on trial for common assault but just before the case proceeded, her defence barrister said the defendant now accepted her guilt.
During the short trial the court heard that in a number of incidents, Cullen left a male resident with a hood over his head and wheeled another resident into an empty room and left him there despite his repeated calls for help.
A prosecuting lawyer told the court that Ms Gallagher was “upset and shaking” after Cullen assaulted her, especially in light of her disability and Cullen’s derogatory remark.
Cullen was interviewed about the incident later that day but denied hitting her, claiming instead that she may have bumped into Ms Gallagher as she rushed from the court.
During the plea in mitigation, Cullen’s defence barrister revealed how her “life has been made a misery” because of comments on social media and adverse media attention.
She further revealed that Cullen had received a live bullet in the post and her house was now up for sale as she could not pay her mortgage having lost her job.
The lawyer said while she accepted she was guilty of assaulting Ms Gallagher, “she doesn’t accept your findings” in relation to the ill-treatment convictions.
“It’s had a catastrophic impact on her life, not just her life but her family life,” said the lawyer, “she’s been exiled in her community, lost friends and colleagues and she reports she’s been subject to verbal abuse in the street.”
She told Judge Watters that if an immediate prison sentence was imposed, “would have the inevitable conclusion that this case would not be finalised today” as that would likely be appealed but as the judge replied, “that does sound in a way a bit of a threat to everyone involved.”
“I don’t really see that as something I can take into account in sentencing,” said the judge.
During her lengthy sentencing remarks, Judge Watters said the one thing which came from the victim impact statements of the families involved “without exception” was that “the victims were people who didn’t want ever to be in a care home” and that in some cases, the victims had made their families promise not to put them in one.
Describing dementia as a “horrible, horrible condition that changes people,” she said the relatives had made their “very, very difficult” decisions “on the basis that they expected them to be safe there and safer than in their own care” because despite their rational decisions, they still felt tremendous guilt.
She added that having read the reports, “in contrast Mrs Cullen doesn’t show the remorse or the guilt that the families feel and I feel that’s something I must take into account.”
Judge Watters told Cullen that having contested the ill treatment allegations, she could receive no credit or discount for that and that she viewed the assault of Ms Gallagher as an aggravating factor.
“I fully believe that to some extent you were a bully in this situation and the fact that you hit that lady who was a witness against you confirms that view to me,” the judge told Cullen.