London Fire Brigade

Care home provider slated for death of elderly woman

22 September 2014

One of the country’s biggest care home providers has today been ordered to pay £170,622 for contravening fire safety laws following a fire in which a woman died.

Anchor Trust which runs Rose Court on Lower Road in Bermondsey, pleaded guilty to two offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 at Woolwich Crown Court. This case comes hot on the heels of a conviction of another care home provider, in Croydon, in May 2014. 

We’re currently investigating other similar establishments and expect more prosecutions to follow.

Mrs Paula Parle, who suffered from dementia, died following a fire in her room at the home for elderly people on 26 March 2010. Our investigators determined that the fire was caused by Mrs Parle's nightwear coming into contact with a naked flame.

Fire risk assessment

The investigation found that although the general fire risk assessment for the home identified smoking as a risk, further assessment specifically in respect of Mrs Parle had not been carried out as required by Anchor Trust’s own policies. As a result measures to reduce the risk had not been properly considered or put into place.

Plan your fire risk assessment

Anchor Trust staff failed to notice and respond to clear warning signs including cigarette burn marks on the carpet.

Mrs Parle's family had been concerned about her heavy smoking and access to lighters and asked staff to manage the amount she smoked. Rose Court put together a policy which would limit Mrs Parle's access to cigarettes and lighters and monitor her smoking, but this wasn't effectively monitored.

The problem and the action

During 2013/14 there were 527 fires in London's care homes and sheltered accommodation, with two people dying and 34 people being injured.

In an effort to reduce these numbers, we have provided information specific to care homes and worked with Skills for Care to produce guidance for carers on how to spot the warning signs of fire risk.

Guidance for Carers

Deputy Commissioner Rita Dexter said:

"Mrs Parle's death could have been prevented. The danger signs were clear but Rose Court did not regularly update the fire risk assessments of everyone in its care which would have helped staff to realise that a smoking related fire was likely if Mrs Parle was left to smoke unsupervised.

"It is absolutely shocking that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are still dying from fires in places where they should be safe. Every care home needs to look at their fire risk assessments and tailor them to meet the real needs of the individual residents in their care.

"The care industry needs to work with us to prevent fires by training staff to pick up on the early warning signs that residents could be at risk from fire and then acting quickly to put measures in place to protect them."

Notes to Editors

Anchor Trust pleaded guilty to two breaches:

Article 9(1)
Failure to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed.
Fined £60,000

Article 11(1)
Failure by the responsible person to effectively plan, organize, control, monitor and review the preventive and protective measures at the premises.
Fined £60,000

The Brigade was awarded costs of £50,622.

London Fire Brigade investigators  found that Anchor Trust did not have suitable and sufficient risk assessments based on the people in its care and that Rose Court did not take into account the fire hazards its elderly residents might encounter.