The family of a woman who died after spending a freezing night outside a care home say justice has been done after the home’s owner was fined £140,000.
Dorothy Spicer was 84 when she died in January, 2010, two months after being found outside Whitefriars Care Home in St George’s Avenue, Stamford, in the early hours of November 26, 2009.
At Lincoln Crown Court last week The Order of St John Care Trust, which owns the home, admitted failing to ensure the safety of Mrs Spicer, in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
It was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £65,000 costs.
Mrs Spicer’s daughter Jane Howard said she and her family were “pleased beyond words that at last a prosecution has been achieved.”
She added: “We are deeply hurt that the St John Trust took so long to enter its plea of guilty to causation of Mum’s death. We feel it has been such a waste of the trust’s time and money.
“We have endured four years of heartache and emotional torment while we listened to its futile excuses. It is beyond my understanding why after such a tragedy they choose to allow us to extend our grief.”
The circumstances leading to Mrs Spicer being found outside the home were revealed during an inquest at Stamford Town Hall in March, 2012. Coroner Gordon Ryall said staff failed to follow the right procedure.
Staff at the Whitefriars Care Home in St George’s Avenue failed to notice that Mrs Spicer had gone missing on the evening of November 25, 2009.
She was found eight hours later lying on the ground in the garden of the home still wearing her day clothes.
No check had been carried out to establish the whereabouts of any of the residents when the day shift handed responsibility over to the night shift at the home.
And the alarm system should have triggered pager messages to staff if a resident left the premises but this did not happen because the individual door alarm was not on.
Mrs Spicer was discovered at 5.20am but staff simply took her inside the home and tried to warm her up. No ambulance was called for another 80 minutes and when she was finally admitted to Peterborough Hospital she was suffering from hypothermia.
She never fully recovered and although she was later transferred to Stamford Hospital she died two months later in January, 2010.
Mrs Howard added: “It was so obvious from the inquest, and the catalogue of errors it revealed, that they allowed a vulnerable lady to spend the night outside in below freezing conditions which then resulted in her death.
“Evidence at the inquest revealed a catalogue of errors, proving too that she could have been found many, many times had the right procedures at Whitefriars been followed.”
“The extended evidence revealed by South Kesteven District Council caused more emotional distress with its findings that the management and staff were aware of the failings and that this failing practice had been going on for some time previous to that dreadful night.
“Whitefriars took away the remaining years of Mum’s life through their mismanagement and their failure to carry out procedures correctly.
“It is beyond my acceptance when it was revealed that the day staff assumed that the night staff would have put mum to bed and that the night staff assumed that the evening staff had put mum to bed. We as a family carry these revelations in our hearts.
“The judges remark that he found it deplorable summed up all my feelings.”
Mrs Howard thanked the district council and the police for their help investigating her mother’s death.
She added: “We as a family hope and pray that lessons have been learned through Mum’s death and the trust now give the vulnerable people placed in their care, the respect and care they deserve in a safer environment. They must ensure this never happens again.
“We feel now that a justice has been reached for the horrendous and untimely death of mum.”
South Kesteven District Council brought the prosecution against the trust after leading an investigation into her death.
Portfolio holder for healthy environment John Smith (Con) said: “Our deepest sympathies are with Mrs Spicer’s family
“We persevered with the prosecution despite lengthy legal arguments and the end guilty plea shows the commitment of the district council to protect the public and investigate fully when the evidence supports a prosecution and it is in the public interest to do so.
“During the investigation, the district council worked closely with our partner agencies including the police and together we were able to assemble evidence in support of this complex and serious case.
“We hope that the sentence in the case sends out a clear message that care for the elderly must improve so that avoidable events like the tragic incident involving Mrs Spicer and the suffering which her family have had to endure cannot happen again.”