Couple died at home almost a week apart, inquest told

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AN ELDERLY couple died in their home almost a week apart just days after accepting day care help from social services.

The bodies of Maurice and Jane Rippon were found in their home in Main Street, Little Casterton by police on January 24 this year.

An inquest into their death at Loughborough Coroner’s Court yesterday (Thursday) heard Mr Rippon, 72, was found sat in a lounge chair facing the TV while his wife, 83, was found lying in the bedroom.

Pathologist Dr Mike Biggs told the inquest it was likely Mr Rippon died on January 13 of pneumonia caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Mr Rippon was a regular smoker and was found with a packet of cigarettes in his shirt pocket.

Dr Biggs said Mrs Rippon probably died on January 19, six days after her husband, of dehydration. The inquest heard that she would have been unable to look after herself after Mr Rippon’s death as she suffered from vascular dementia.

Police were called to the Rippons’ home by Rutland County Council social worker Aleisha White, who had been working with the couple since December 2011.

Mrs White told the inquest she had visited them to suggest sending Mrs Rippon to day care sessions at Chater Lodge Care Home in Ketton.

This was the first step in a care plan designed to give Mr Rippon, who was his wife’s sole carer, some respite. The inquest heard he was a proud man and wanted to look after his wife by himself.

During an unannounced visit in December Dr Tessa Jenkins, the couple’s GP at Empingham Medical Centre, found the couple in good health, although Mr Rippon was showing the strain of looking after his wife.

Dr Jenkins told the inquest Mr Rippon had said: “It is my duty, I feel like I owe it to her. I can do it. I want to help.”

But Mrs Rippon’s daughters from a previous marriage, Jennifer Bentley and Valerie Bingham, had raised concerns with Rutland County Council about what would happen if he became ill.

Mr Rippon agreed to give day care a try and on January 9 he took his wife to Chater Lodge.

The inquest heard from the home’s deputy manager, Wendy Kaya, who said Mrs Rippon had enjoyed her day and was singing and dancing with residents. The home expected her back on January 13 but did not notify social services when she did not turn up.

Mrs Kaya said it was not unusual for people with dementia to try a session and not come back and there was no protocol in place at the time to notify anyone if this happened.

Mrs White only found out about the missed appointment on January 19 from a colleague. Further concerns were raised when Mrs White found out Mrs Rippon had missed a doctor’s appointment and she went to the house on January 24, where she saw Mr Rippon’s body through the lounge window.

The inquest also heard from toxicologist Dr Paul Smith, who confirmed Dr Briggs’ assessment on the dates of death, and from Anna Miners, head of service for vulnerable people at Rutland County Council.

Mrs Miners said a range of changes had been brought in as a result of a review into Mr and Mrs Rippon’s deaths.

These changes included setting up emergency support plans for vulnerable carers, such as Mr Rippon, to ensure there are measures in place if something happens to them.

And Mrs Bentley asked Mrs Miners why more had not been done to follow up the family’s worries. She said: “I am grateful you took our concerns seriously but I don’t think you took them far enough.”

Coroner Richard Chapman recorded a verdict of death by natural causes for Mr and Mrs Rippon. Speaking to Mrs Bentley, Mrs Bingham and Mr Rippon’s sister-in-law, Sheila, he said: “I think at the end of the day we have aired concerns and everyone knows what those concerns are.

“Social services have done their best to bung up the holes to try and ensure that if similar circumstances happen the systems they have are more robust than they were at the time.

“While it is not going to bring them back it will at least ensure that it is less likely to happen in future.”

Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Bentley said: “Valerie and I, and our families, have been through a very harrowing time and are deeply affected by the loss of these two beloved family members, particularly by the manner of mother’s death.

“We are grieving for both mother and Maurice, but have some wonderful memories of happier times which will sustain us now and in the future.”

A Rutland County Council spokesman said: “The council acknowledges that this is a very difficult time for the family of Mr and Mrs Rippon and we offer our sincere condolences. 

“We would also like to reassure them that this tragic set of circumstances has prompted the council to complete a full review into the support in place for people in similar circumstances. 

“A detailed action plan is already in the process of being introduced with key changes based around support for lone carers, as well as the introduction of an improved system for monitoring day centre attendance.

“We once again offer our condolences and our thoughts remain with the family of Mr and Mrs Rippon.”