Death toll from Sydney nursing home fire continues to rise

Sydney

Every day the death toll rises from a catastrophic blaze at a Sydney nursing home; last night it stood at nine. And every day the grief deepens, along with the sense of disbelief: how could anyone inflict such suffering on the elderly and infirm and their families?

Police believe the person responsible is Roger Dean, a 35-year-old nurse employed at the home in the suburb of Quakers Hill. Mr Dean, who was on duty when two separate fires broke out last Friday, helped several residents to safety. He has now been charged with four murders, allegedly using a cigarette lighter to set fire to bed sheets in two rooms. Three people died at the home and a fourth in hospital that afternoon. Since then, smoke inhalation and severe burns have claimed five more lives.

Yesterday, 22 residents were still in hospital, six of them in a serious or critical condition.

Nearly 100 people lived at the home; some were blind, others had dementia. "I know she was an old lady but she didn't deserve to go this way," Neil Becke said of his 96-year-old mother, Doris, who died on Monday.

Police have refused to comment on claims officers interviewed Mr Dean the night before the fire about an alleged theft. According to reports, Mr Dean, who lived locally, left his previous job at another nursing home after a dispute.

Forensics officers are continuing to examine the home but some parts are still too dangerous to access.

A memorial service for the victims is being held at the local Anglican Church. The vicar, Geoff Bates, said Mr Dean had attended services. "He had an identity crisis. He would change his appearance regularly. One week he would have dark hair and the next week it would be blond."

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