The investigation is said to have been in response to concerns raised by social services following a number of deaths at the homes between April 2015 and June 2017. Some of the homes care for the elderly while others care for adults with physical or learning difficulties.

Police officers met on Friday with the families of 12 people who had died in the care homes to explain why the police were involved. Representatives from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), West Sussex County Council, the NHS and Coroner for West Sussex are also reported to have attended the meeting.

Solicitor Merry Varney, who specialises in cases involving the protection of vulnerable adults, said:

“In my work I have seen time and time again terrible standards of care for vulnerable adults and the elderly and I welcome the police investigating this case to examine whether the care given at these homes was so poor as to be criminally negligent or whether criminal ill-treatment occurred.

“If any criminal offences have occurred then those responsible, at all levels of seniority, must be held to account.

“I sincerely hope that the investigation can give some answers to the families of these who have died about the deaths of their loved ones.

“As has been said many times before, not least after the shocking exposure of abuse at Winterbourne View, we must do better at caring for and protecting the most vulnerable people in our society."