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Woman reveals sexual abuse she suffered on mental health unit

Nima Hunt
Nima Hunt Image credit: news.sky.com

For years Nima Hunt has stayed silent about the sexual predator she was exposed to whilst she was a patient at a psychiatric unit, now she has finally had the courage to go public.

When she was 16 Ms Hunt was sexually abused by Marcus Daniell who was working on the same ward at Watcombe Hall where the teenager was being treated.

Despite continued warnings about Daniell he still had permission to not only work at the unit, after Ms Hunt reported the attack he was allowed back in to the same ward to continue his role.

Speaking to Sky News former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the case had "shone a spotlight on some profound inadequacy in the mental health provision that we give to children and young people".

Within days of being admitted to Watcombe Hall by the NHS Ms Hunt was groomed by Daniell.

"I remember that he used to give me lots of special treatment so he'd spend more time with me than other patients there when he was on shift,” Ms Hunt told Sky News.

"If I was on one-to-one support, so I needed someone with me all the time, then he'd often be my one-to-one. He would find a way to change or adapt the staff that were on shift to spend more time with me."

Ms Hunt was influenced by Daniell into believing they were in a normal relationship.

"Right from the beginning with Marcus - I felt that I loved him - that I was in love with him - in the kind of relationship that you would have between a girlfriend or boyfriend,” She said.

"Not ever for any minute did I feel like he was doing something wrong. I had no idea that what was happening was grooming, absolutely no idea."

The vulnerable teenager was talked into an escalating relationship which she did not want whilst suffering from mental health.

Ms Hunt said: "The longer I was there and the more leave that I was taking with him, the more we were going on these escorted walks, the further it progressed.

"It moved on to, he was kissing me, initially that was on the cheek and then it moved to kissing my lips.

"Then it moved to him touching different parts of my body."

Unware there were past concerns about Daniell the teenager spoke to a member of staff about his behaviour, but no action was taken.

"Initially, she [the staff member] seemed surprised but she didn't say it was wrong or bad or that it wasn't right," said Ms Hunt. "She just seemed surprised. It's really hard to say exactly how telling her made me feel.

"At the time, I couldn't really recognise that actually I was telling her because I needed her help.”

The day after Ms Hunt was discharged from Watcombe Hall in 2017 she had arranged to meet Daniell in his home town of Shaldon, south Devon.

She said: "It was meant to be a birthday treat for me.

"He bought me a silver necklace with pendant on it.

"He'd brought a little picnic so we were sat in the woods near his home and in quite a secluded area.

"We put this picnic blanket out. We were sat eating and I just remember feeling sick, feeling really, really sick and having this gut feeling something was wrong."

It was at this point Ms Hunt told her family who reported Daniell to the police, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison pleading guilty to 21 offences for sexually abusing three teenage girls in his care.

Over time Ms Hunt’s mental health deteriorated for a second time and she was admitted back to the same unit at Watcombe Hall.

A decision which left her “confused and betrayed”.

She said: "I don't know how anybody would have thought that after experiencing something so traumatic the correct response, the right response and the best response for my mental health was to put me back in to the environment that had been so traumatic.

"My family and I felt so voiceless and confused and hurt and betrayed. It felt like there was no point in raising objections, the damage had been done."

Ms Hunt points the blame to not only Daniell, but also her care provider, the Huntercombe group.

She said: "They absolutely failed in their duty of care. There were so many obvious signs and signals and red flags the entire time I was there as a patient at Watcombe.

"There were so many signs that suggested what was happening between me and Marcus was wrong, horribly wrong.”

Ms Hunt’s lawyer, Thomas Beale of Bolt Burdon Kemp, believes the Huntercombe Group are responsible for the vulnerable people in their care

He said it was "deeply concerning that they not only failed to meet the basic standards of care required but also allowed their patients to be abused by the very people that should have been there to protect them".

He added: "The Huntercombe Group now has an opportunity to accept liability and provide the support that these individuals so desperately need to help rebuild their lives."

The Four Seasons Health Care Group owned the Huntercombe Group at the time of Ms Hunt’s abuse, they are no longer associated with the care provider.

A spokesperson for the group told Sky News: "We deeply regret the harm Miss Hunt experienced while in the care of Watcombe Hall, which at the time was owned and independently managed by The Huntercombe Group.

"Watcombe Hall failed to meet the expected standards and was subsequently closed in 2017. We are unable to comment further on this specific case until any legal action has concluded.

"Following a restructure which was completed in March of this year, we no longer own the business trading as the Huntercombe Group and cannot comment on current services."

Former health secretary and current chair of the health select committee Jeremy Hunt told Sky News: "Clearly there are individuals who did the most abhorrent things that have to take full responsibility under the law for the care, but the system needs improving and that is ultimately the responsibility the secretary of state for health - not just Matt Hancock now but me when I was also secretary of state.

"And I do believe that huge effort is being made to improve the care that people like Nima receive but sometimes the progress feels painfully slow and that is because fundamentally what we need is a big expansion of our capacity to deliver mental health at all levels."

In response to Ms Hunt’s case NHS England said: "Measures are in place so that patients receive high quality, safe care from the organisations commissioned and contracts are regularly monitored to ensure this happens.

"The NHS has significantly increased mental health support for people in the community so that people can get treated as close to home as possible.

"An additional £975m every year will be invested in community care by 2023/24 with an extra 345,000 children and young people getting the help they need."

Ms Hunt, now 20, is undergoing treatment for the abuse she suffered at Watcombe Hall.

"I have a diagnosis now of complex PTSD (sic) as a result of what I lived through at Watcombe Hall of the abuse I endured there,” she said.

"I still self-harm, the severity of my self-harm has changed since I've been at Watcombe.

"I struggle more than I ever have now with my body in its physical form.

"The idea of having a woman's body feels almost sickening to me because of what Marcus did. Because of what he made me believe about myself."

Nima Hunt was thirteen when she first entered the children’s mental health system needing urgent help.