A 91-year-old woman froze to death in the grounds of a care home after being “overlooked completely” by staff due to a catalogue of health and safety blunders, a court has heard.
Hilda Fairweather, who suffered from vascular dementia, was not reported missing from the home for almost 12 hours after she walked out of an unsecured fire door.
Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard that the Abele View home in Iverley, near Stourbridge, had two staff looking after 29 residents on the night Mrs Fairweather died of hypothermia in January 2009.
Although the fire door was found ajar shortly after Mrs Fairweather disappeared, a head count was not carried out, and no scheduled checks on her were conducted during the night.
The company that owns the home, Abele View Ltd, was fined £133,000 today and ordered to pay £122,412 in costs. It had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to failing to ensure the safety of its residents and making an insufficient risk assessment.
Describing the facts of the case, prosecutor Bernard Thorogood said the safety breaches at the isolated building were committed despite numerous previous incidents in which confused residents had absconded.
Mrs Fairweather, from Kidderminster, was last seen by staff at 7.30pm on 29 January, 2009, and was found dead at 7.45am the following day.
Mr Thorogood told the court: “In the intervening time she should have been put to bed, and she should have been checked for other purposes through the night.” Records which should have shown the scheduled checks were missing, Mr Thorogood said. He also outlined 18 instances of “accepted criminality” on behalf of Abele View.
As well as accepting that its failures caused Mrs Fairweather’s death, Abele View also acknowledged that it had inadequate staffing levels, and that risks were created by poor supervision and management. Previous incidents in which residents were allowed to wander off represented a series of wake-up calls for the home, Mr Thorogood said.
Outlining how Mrs Fairweather’s absence went unnoticed, Mr Thorogood told the court: “The sad and deeply unattractive facts are that she had frozen to death outside the home on a freezing night in January when she should not have been able to get out.
“For a variety of reasons she should have had substantial contact with the staff through the night.”