Home is fined £140k over resident’s death

Dorothy Spicer who died after being left outside in the freezing cold.
Dorothy Spicer who died after being left outside in the freezing cold.
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Operators of a care home whose failings led to the tragic death of a pensioner have been fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £65,000 costs.

The Orders of St John Care Trust Ltd was prosecuted by South Kesteven District Council after Dorothy Spicer (84), formerly of Market Deeping, was left outside for about eight hours in freezing conditions.

Mrs Spicer was found lying face down, conscious but hypothermic, in the grounds of Whitefriars Care Home in Stamford at 5.20am on November 26, 2009.

Lincoln Crown Court heard on Thursday that a complete lack of adequate handover between shifts meant Mrs Spicer was unaccounted for – staff on the day shift assumed the night shift would put her to bed while night shift staff assumed the day shift had already put her to bed.

Judge Michael Heath said: “Mrs Spicer was a very much loved mother and was a very loving lady herself and this is a very sad case indeed.

“I want the family to know I understand how they feel and the sentence no way carries the value of Mrs Spicer’s life as no one can put a value on human life.

“There were corporate and systematic failings which were a significant and substantial cause of Mrs Spicer’s death.”

South Kesteven’s portfolio holder for healthy environment, John Smith said: “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.”

An inquest in 2012 recorded a narrative verdict that Mrs Spicer died of pneumonia due to decreased mobility following hypothermia and dementia.

During the inquest, the jury heard the last time Mrs Spicer was seen in the home was at 8.30pm on November 25, when she was sitting in a lounge.

Coroner Gordon Ryall said: “To Mrs Spicer’s family the death of their mother in such circumstances has been a great source of sadness. They will never forget that for about eight hours their mother was outside in the cold.”

The Orders of St John Care Trust pleaded guilty at the crown court to failing in its duty to Mrs Spicer.

Trust chief executive Andrew Cheeseborough said: “We made serious mistakes and in light of that I believe that the fine was appropriate.”

One of Mrs Spicer’s daughters, Jane Howard, said evidence at the inquest revealed a catalogue of errors, proving her mother could have “been found many, many times had the right procedures at Whitefriars been followed.”