A senior care worker has categorically denied deliberately aggravating a vulnerable patient by threatening to press a ‘man-button’ when she was in an agitated state.

Peter Bennett is one of nine members of staff from a specialist private hospital unit on trial accused of abusing patients after they were filmed by an undercover BBC reporter.

The defendant is accused of tormenting the female patient, who cannot be named for legal reasons, by mentioning male staff members despite knowing she prefers to be looked after by female workers.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 43-year-old would try different diversionary tactics when the patient was distressed and screaming.

He said: “My complete and whole desire was to calm her down and leave the area. I didn’t want to stay there hearing the horrendous screaming.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Peter Bennett arriving at court last monthPeter Bennett arriving at court last month (Image: The Northern Echo)

Bennett told jurors that he had suffered a ‘mental breakdown’ while working at Whorlton Hall and had just returned to work shortly before the undercover reporter started working there.

The defendant accepted that he had talked about the ‘man-button’ but denied that it was used to aggravate the patient.

Under cross examination by prosecuting counsel Anne Richardson, Bennett denied her claim that he had been deliberately cruel to her. He replied: “Absolutely not.”

Bennett is one of six men and three women, who worked at Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle, were caught on camera abusing their positions, according to the prosecution.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Whorlton HallWhorlton Hall

Filmed over several weeks, the reporter captured the defendants tormenting one distressed patient who was seen to scream in anguish and hit herself as staff encouraged her or threatened to remove all female staff.

Matthew Banner, who is facing six charges all relating to the same patient on separate occasions between January 6 and February 22, 2019, has also started giving evidence in his defence.

Jurors at Teesside Crown Court have watched clips of hours of secretly recorded footage from inside the unit which caters for vulnerable patients with learning disabilities or autism.

In one 17-minute clip of Banner and Bennett were filmed allegedly aggravating the patient by talking about balloons despite them knowing that it was a trigger for her behaviour and the woman could be heard screaming in distress and agitation.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Matthew Banner arriving at a previous court hearingMatthew Banner arriving at a previous court hearing (Image: The Northern Echo)

Giving evidence in his defence, Banner denied deliberately antagonising the vulnerable patient.

His legal counsel, Stephen Constantine, asked him if he had been ‘deliberately’ cruel to her. He simply replied: “No.”

Banner will continue giving evidence on Wednesday.

The accused are:

• John Sanderson, 25, of Cambridge Avenue, Willington, faces two charges of care worker ill-treatment or wilful neglect of an individual on February 2 and 25, 2019.

• Darren Mark Lawton, 47, of Miners Crescent, Darlington, by virtue of being a care worker, allegedly ill-treated or wilfully neglected a patient on January 27, 2019, and faces the same charge relating to a different patient on February 2.

• Niall Mellor, 26, of Lingmell Dene, Coundon, Bishop Auckland, is accused of the ill-treatment or wilful neglect of a patient on two occasions on January 20 and 24, 2019.

• Sarah Banner, 33, from Faulkner Road, Newton Aycliffe, stands accused of three charges of ill-treatment or neglect of a female in her care on January 24 and of a male patient the following day.

• Matthew Banner, 43, of the same Newton Aycliffe address, faced six charges all relating to the same patient at Whorlton Hall on separate occasions between January 6 and February 22.

• Ryan Fuller, 27, from of Deerbolt Bank, Barnard Castle, faced ten charges of ill-treatment or wilful neglect against six different patients January 19 and February 2.

• Sabah Mahmood, 27, of Woodland Crescent, Kelloe, is accused of, by virtue of being a care worker, ill-treating or wilfully neglecting a male patient on January 4, 2019.

• Peter Bennett, 53, of Redworth Road, Billingham, faced three charges in total relating to two female patients, on January 6 and February 24.

• Karen McGhee, 54, from Wildair Close, Darlington, faced a total of four charges relating to a male and a female patient which were all said to have happened in January 2019.

The trial continues.