Derbyshire care home fined after elderly woman crushed to death under wardrobe

Pictured is Belper woman Thomasina Bennett who died after a wardrobe fell on her at Milford House Care Home, on Derby Road, Milford.
Pictured is Belper woman Thomasina Bennett who died after a wardrobe fell on her at Milford House Care Home, on Derby Road, Milford.

A care home partnership has been ordered to pay £150,000 after a monitoring system was not working properly when an elderly resident was crushed to death under a wardrobe.

Derby Crown Court heard today, Thursday, May 26, how Belper woman Thomasina Bennett, 80, was found dead at Milford House Care Home, on Derby Road, Milford, in April 2012.

The care home was convicted in March in relation to it Post-Activity Monitors (PAMs) for failing to make a sufficient assessment, failing to ensure the equipment was fit for purpose and that staff had received training.

Prosecuting barrister Jonathan Owen said there were problems with the PAMs and the manager of the home knew of them.

He also said there were maintenance breaches and problems reporting matters to the maintenance manager and this breach persisted over a long time.

Mr Owen said: “There were no significant efforts to address the risk. There was no system of proper proactivity maintenance or any systematic effort to get to grips with the problem.

“It’s an offence committed in respect of a vulnerable person by an organisation with a high degree of trust and confidence expected in the care of a person who had been placed with them and the family made proper steps and had been assured she would be monitored.”

PAMs were introduced to monitor certain residents’ movements so staff could be alerted immediately.

The court heard how Mrs Bennett had either fallen and tried to pull herself up with the wardrobe, or had fallen while holding the wardrobe - or had fallen and knocked the wardrobe and brought it down on herself.

Mr Owen added: “If its PAM monitors had been working effectively they would have prevented this case because she wouldn’t have fallen and they would have made this outcome significantly less likely.

“If the system had worked she would not have fallen over or someone would have helped her up.”

The family of Mrs Bennett, who had Alzheimer’s and mobility issues, had agreed to leave her in the care of the home for a temporary period to allow them a brief respite when the incident occurred.

The court heard how Mrs Bennett had been checked at 2.30am and she was later discovered to have fallen - but there was no clarity about exactly how she had got into the position she was found in under the wardrobe.

John Cooper, defending, argued that Milford House had adopted the use of PAMs without any legal obligation to do so and had done so to improve its standards of care even though they are not widely used elsewhere.

He stated that all the PAMs system does is trigger an alarm to make sure someone comes in a certain time frame.

He said: “This is a company with a good health and safety record and it’s never been before the courts before and there has been a commitment to high care standards and in their approach to management care.”

Judge Jonathan Bennett fined the Milford House partnership £60,000 and ordered them to pay £90,000 in costs.

He praised Mrs Bennett’s family who had thoroughly outlined Mrs Bennett’s needs and risks of falling to the care home.

Judge Bennett added: “It’s been an horrendous period of time for the family who have behave with remarkable dignity and I thank them for that and hope in due course they will remember the good times rather than what has been a grim few years.”

Mrs Bennett’s daughter Margaret Calladine said: “No amount of money can bring our mum back and we have still got to live with the tragic circumstances of her death. If they had not said she would be monitored at night she would not have been in that home.”

A spokesman for Milford House said: “Our team were left deeply saddened by the accident in April 2012. We are all devastated by the loss of Mrs Bennett and our thoughts continue to be with her family.

“During the trial the judge recognised that the wardrobe accident was unforeseeable but today the partnership has been sentenced in relation to the use of motion sensors known as PAMs.”

The partnership argued that the introduction of the PAMs went beyond any legal requirements and did not replace staff visits and if it had not invested in the monitors it would not have received this conviction.

Amber Valley Borough Council brought the prosecution against Milford House Care Home, which included partners Gerald Hudson and the late Keith Dobb.