“The prosecution say that each of them was effectively imprisoned in that room against their will,” he said.”It was not a one-off but organised and systemic abuse of people with learning disabilities – vulnerable members of society who were residents in homes that were meant to care for them.”The rooms were known as either the “garden room” or the “quiet room”.Mr Langdon said: “Whatever the original purpose, these two rooms were used by staff to control – perhaps to even punish – residents at a time that was not only unacceptable by professional standards of care but was also quite unnecessarily cruel.”One man, who cannot be named, spent 195 sessions in a “quiet room” including 13 overnight stays. His mother said the treatment was “barbaric, disgusting and unnecessary”.Hewitt was described as a “respected figure” who was a qualified psychiatric nurse and behavioural therapist.At the time he ran seven care homes in Devon and Berkshire. Hewitt sold Atlas for £3 million to his two sons and other directors in a management buyout in 2006 but continued to describe himself as the managing director.The “balloon went up” when one former resident contacted the watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, in July 2011 and the police became involved. Staff tried to correct residents’ behaviour as if they would train an animal, with prosecutor Andrew Langdon QC describing it as the “Atlas culture”. “There is no doubt that Atlas had an impressive reputation. It could offer care to people with severe learning disabilities that others could not.”At some point the wrong turn was taken which allowed the quiet room and garden rooms to be used.”It became a way of life – it became the norm, a habit. Rather than care in the community it became lack of care in the community and systematic neglect.”The residents didn’t like it. The phrase that comes back to me, ‘If you kick off, you get the quiet room’.”It was used as a form of punishment and they were distressed and in discomfort when left in the room. Eventually they complied but that had no therapeutic value”There were many that benefited from the Atlas regime but the way that the rooms became used was not beneficial.”Those two rooms cast a dark shadow over people’s lives.”One former employee of Veilstone told the BBC that that the atmostphere was like an “ice block” and likened it to a “prison regime”. Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, welcomed the sentences.”Atlas and a large number of their staff utterly failed in their duty to look after the people in their care,” she said. Care home bosses could increasingly face prosecution over the neglect of residents after a “groundbreaking” court case into “organised and systematic” abuse.Five company directors and managers were among 13 people convicted yesterday for imprisoning the vulnerable, with senior figures accused of creating a culture where neglect was the norm.Staff treated vulnerable people like animals, the court heard, trapping them in rooms without heating, furniture or even toilets for long periods, as a form of punishment.During the trials, the directors and staff were accused of creating a culture where “systematic neglect” was the norm at the two care homes in Devon run by Atlas Project Team. But the court heard that those who were vulnerable disabled were left alone for hours on end with little food or water.The case is significant because it is thought to be the first time directors have been successfully prosecuted alongside staff.Last night health watchdogs the Care Quality Commission admitted they had been too slow to act on concerns, but said they had strengthened enforcement processes, which could mean further prosecutions.Huw Rogers, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “The directors and managers at the Atlas care homes created a culture of abuse – unlawfully detaining residents in very poor conditions for long periods of time.”This case has been ground-breaking in that the directors and managers of the homes and not just the staff that implemented their policies have been held to account.The investigation was launched after one of the residents contacted the authorities in July 2011.He said he was left to sleep on a punctured airbed, in a room that was “disgusting and cold” without a toilet, or a handle to open the door. “These criminal court proceedings against Atlas Projects Ltd founder Paul Hewitt and Atlas managers and employees underline the legal responsibilities those who manage and profit from care facilities have for the physical and psychological well-being of their residents.”It also highlights the responsibility of those public bodies who failed these vulnerable individuals by not commissioning appropriate facilities and therefore should retain responsibility for the services they have contracted out.”These verdicts against the owners and managers of Atlas Projects Ltd and those they employed are a reminder that health and safety legislation protects the rights of the most vulnerable and we would call on the Government to ensure that more is done to strengthen such safeguards.” “No-one should be subject to the degrading abuse people experienced and I am glad that the perpetrators have been recognised for the criminals they are.”When the CQC inspected Veilstone in October 2011, inspectors were so concerned by the treatment they discovered that they quickly extended the inspection to all 15 of the services run by Atlas.”We found serious concerns in most of their care homes, including the routine use of excessive restrictive practices, which is why we took action which led to the closure of all of these services in 2012.”She said the watchdog “should have responded much more quickly” when concerns were first raised. “Much has changed since 2011,” she said. “Since then we have overhauled our regulatory approach; improved the monitoring of services and the way we respond to safeguarding concerns; introduced a new and more thorough inspection process; increased the numbers of people with learning disabilities involved in our inspections; and strengthened our enforcement processes.”The end of these trials is a chilling reminder that we must all remain vigilant to support and protect people in vulnerable circumstances who have every right to live their lives to the full, free from fear and treated with dignity and respect.” It became a way of life – it became the norm, a habit. Rather than care in the community it became lack of care in the community and systematic neglectJudge William Hart The CQC carried out unannounced inspections the following October and the two homes were later closed. Atlas has since gone into administration.”The prosecution say it was an insular world and it led to a culture of care that was in effect abusive,” Mr Langdon said.”The residents were not inmates, they were residents, and whatever the challenges their behaviour created, each of them at all times should have been treated with respect.”The company was paid as much as £4,000 a week per resident.Gatooma had an income of nearly £700,000 a year while Vielstone produced annual revenue of £1.2 million. Atlas Project Team had a turnover of £6.5 million in 2011.During the trial, some of the seven victims – who were only known by their initials of AF, AC, BP, LO, HI, JM and WB – gave evidence.Seven defendants were acquitted and prosecutors did not seek retrials against four others after the panel failed to reach verdicts.Passing sentence last year, Judge William Hart said: “Having heard the evidence during these trials, I can only conclude that for many years the Atlas homes were well run and were able to provide a service for the most challenging people in our society. The court case saw senior managers convicted of the “organised and systemic abuse” of disabled residents at the Veilstone care home in Bideford, and Gatooma, in Holsworthy, in 2010 and 2011.They included Jolyon Marshall, 42, a company director, jailed for 28 months, his wife Rachel, 32, who was given an eight-month suspended sentence.Paul Hewitt, 71, the founder of the company, was convicted of a health and safety offence, with other managers given suspended sentences and community service orders, along with care workers who carried out the abuse.The company was paid up to £4,000 a week per resident. The room inside Veilstone care home in BidefordCredit: Devon & Cornwall Police/PA Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Health campaigners said weak inspection systems had allowed an abusive culture to develop. Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, and Vivien Cooper, chief executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, said: “Throughout the three trials last year, juries have listened to horrific accounts of people with a learning disability being abused by those who were being paid to support them,””Despite several warning signs, it took far too long for the abusive practices at the care homes to be exposed.”Poor commissioning by a number of local authorities and weak inspection allowed an abusive culture to develop and sustain itself, with devastating consequences for individuals and their families.”They said the families of the Atlas victims had waited more than five years for justice and commended Devon and Cornwall Police for a thorough investigation.The treatment of some vulnerable adults within residential settings was exposed by the BBC’s Panorama programme in 2011 with its undercover investigation into the scandal at the Winterbourne View private hospital.Since then the Government has ordered the closure of 1,000 beds at assessment and treatment units like Winterbourne View.Lawyer Alison Millar, from law firm Leigh Day, is representing several of the former residents.”We believe this is a significant verdict for the future welfare of people in residential care,” she said.