Care home death accused walks free
Monday 14 November 2011
A young care home worker walked free today after a jury failed to reach a verdict on whether she killed an elderly resident by setting fire to her room.
Jurors trying Rebecca Reasbeck, 20, were discharged after deliberating for 17 hours and four minutes on whether or not she killed 85-year-old Irene Herring.
Prosecutors decided there would be no public interest in seeking a third trial and Judge Mr Justice Saunders formally entered a not guilty verdict.
Reasbeck broke down in tears in the dock as she realised she would soon be free, but offered no comment to reporters as she left Lewes Crown Court.
In an emotive statement following the case, Mrs Herring's widower David Herring said he hoped whoever killed his wife "will sincerely regret their actions" in the years ahead.
Reasbeck was alleged to have started the fire in Mrs Herring's top-floor room at Ancaster Court in Hastings Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, on February 1 2009.
Prosecutors alleged Reasbeck, aged 17 at the time, hoped to "act the heroine" by wanting to save the pensioner, but the fire developed so rapidly that no-one could reach bed-ridden Mrs Herring in time.
Mrs Herring, who suffered from dementia, was rescued by firefighters and taken to the Conquest Hospital but died of pneumonia brought on by smoke inhalation the following day.
It was alleged that Reasbeck, of London Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, had started the fire in two places in the room - on an electric reclining chair and on a commode seat.
But Reasbeck, who has no previous convictions, denied manslaughter at the re-trial, telling police that the theory she had deliberately started the fire was "sick - plain and simple".
Defence counsel Simon Russell-Flint QC said in his closing speech that the prosecution's case was based on "guesswork" and that other avenues had not been considered or explored.
Today, prosecutor Anthony Haycroft said there were "compelling reasons" not to pursue another trial, including that the memories of witnesses will fade further over time.
Mr Haycroft said: "We have canvassed the opinions of everyone, including the police, the CPS and the family. We are of the unanimous view that it would not be in the public interest to pursue a third trial and accordingly I offer no further evidence."
He added: "This jury has always applied themselves diligently and the Crown is of the view that another jury may find themselves in the same position, which isn't in the public interest to pursue."
Mr Herring said his late wife, whom he married in 1950, served in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and the Women's Royal Naval Service.
In a statement read by their eldest son Philip outside court, Mr Herring said: "Today has now brought closure to the sad events of early February 2009 when Rene died following an arson attack in her nursing home room.
"I visited the nursing home and spent each day with Rene where she was confined to bed and had lived for her final two years of life."
He added: "Rene was a wonderful wife and mother to our five children and was an active member of the Bexhill Catholic community.
"Rene enjoyed sports and had played tennis to a good standard. Rene was a kind and generous person to everyone and is greatly missed by us all."
Speaking of whoever was responsible for his wife's death, Mr Herring said: "Whoever started the fire and caused Rene's death may never be convicted in a court of law.
"However, whoever it was knows they did it and its tragic consequences. I hope that in the years ahead they will sincerely regret their actions.
"I am sure that Rene now rests in peace, reunited with our departed loved ones. I know my children support these sentiments. I know they have all suffered distress, as I have, through the loss of their mother."
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