Care home boss convicted of killing elderly resident

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The Independent Online

A former care home manager who stole medication from elderly residents to feed her own addiction was today found guilty of killing one of them.

Registered nurse Rachel Baker, 44, gave Lucy Cox, 97, lethal doses of medication while she herself was abusing controlled drugs she stole from Parkfields Residential Care Home, in Butleigh, Somerset.

Baker, of Boundary Way, Glastonbury, was convicted of the manslaughter of Mrs Cox but acquitted by a jury at Bristol Crown Court of the manslaughter of another resident, Frances Hay, 85.

She had admitted 10 counts of possessing class A and C drugs, and one of perverting the course of justice.

But she denied killing the two women.

She was acquitted yesterday of charges that she murdered both of them.

Opening the case in January, prosecutor David Fisher said: "Rachel Baker was, by her own admission, regularly taking prescribed drugs, which must have had a substantial effect on her character and conduct.

"She, for a variety of bizarre and perverted reasons, may have had a desire to control the terminal destiny of some of her residents."

Care assistant Kathy Slade, who worked with Baker, gave evidence, saying she overheard her boss ask Mrs Hay if she wanted to "end it all" two days before she died.

In her evidence, Baker blamed the "stress, pain and emotional turmoil" of running the home for her decision to steal the medication.

She also claimed she was left feeling "useless" after the death of one of the home's residents, Fred Green.

But she denied that her "diverting" of residents' drugs ever affected their care.

Baker sobbed as the guilty verdict was announced.

Trial judge Mr Justice Royce told her she was facing jail.

"A custodial sentence is inevitable given the circumstances, a combination of drugs offences and the conviction for manslaughter," the judge said.

Baker was remanded in custody for sentencing on a date to be fixed.

The jury retired to consider its verdicts on March 26 and resumed its deliberations on Wednesday after a six-day break over Easter.

Baker was cleared unanimously of murdering both women and an attempted murder charge involving Mrs Hay yesterday after the judge told the jury of seven women and five men he would accept majority verdicts.

The jury had been deliberating for a total of 34 hours before reaching its final verdicts today.

After the conviction, Detective Superintendent Trevor Simpson said the three-year investigation had not been about the generic care offered to residents.

He said he was satisfied that that was of a "high standard" and noted how passionate witnesses were about their jobs.

The trial was about the criminal actions of just one person - Baker, he said.

He added in a statement: "Mrs Baker deliberately and dishonestly lied to, manipulated and abused the trust of others, including fellow healthcare professionals, carers and - most disturbing - the families of those residents in her care.

"All this deceit was for one selfish goal, to obtain the controlled drugs she wanted for her own addiction."

Mr Simpson's statement continued: "Mrs Baker created and/or exaggerated symptoms of pain to ensure doctors prescribed the opiates she craved.

"She stole these drugs and administered what she thought was appropriate doses regardless of the doctor's instructions.

"This led to residents being treated for pain they didn't have or not being treated with appropriate doses for the pain they did have.

"This control exerted over the delivery of drugs was further compounded by her large-scale fraudulent record-keeping.

"There is no doubt that this highly dangerous activity would have continued had it not been for the actions of two of the carers who raised their actions to the regulatory body, the former Commission for Social Care Inspection.

"This was referred to the police in a timely manner and the investigation was launched.

"I fear that, had they not complained about Mrs Baker's suspicious behaviour, further residents may have died prematurely. The carers are to be recommended for taking this brave stance against their employer."

The policeman's statement continued: "There has been ground-breaking use of experts during this investigation and none more so than the toxicologist who was able to advance processes to examine a wide range of drugs found within Mrs Baker's hair and that of the deceased.

"As with all investigations of this seriousness, we must look for opportunities to prevent them happening again and we will work closely with all those agencies concerned to ensure that learning is identified and recommendations are made accordingly."

He paid tribute to the witnesses and families involved in the case and hoped that the end of the trial would bring closure for them.

The Care Quality Commission, which is responsible for monitoring standards in care homes, said: "Testimony made clear that Rachel Baker went to great lengths to hide her illegal use of drugs from her staff, friends and family."

It said an inspection of Parkfields by the CQC's predecessor the Commission for Social Care Inspection in 2006 "involved extensive checking of medication records and stocks of prescribed medicines, which were in order.

"These records should also - by law - have made clear that controlled drugs were prescribed on the premises, but they did not.

"As a result, the inspector had no reason to believe controlled drugs were being used at Parkfields or any reason to take further action to look for them.

"Staff later brought concerns about Mrs Baker to CSCI's attention and the regulator acted quickly to inform police.

"CQC is introducing a new, tougher system of regulation for health and social care and now has in-house expertise on controlled drugs.

"Since changes to the law in 2008, every social care service that looks after controlled drugs must make an annual declaration to CQC, and our inspectors check arrangements for controlled drug handling during site visits."