Court hears gaps between rooms at Croftwood in Halton Lodge would have allowed fire and smoke to spread putting residents at risk of death or serious injury
A care home company has been fined £40,000 plus £15,000 in costs over fire safety breaches at a Runcorn facility that prosecutors claimed left elderly clients at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a blaze.
Minster Care Management was sentenced over four counts of failing to comply with the Fire Safety Order 2005 legislation over problems at Croftwood care home in Halton Lodge.
Former firefighter Graham Foote, 70, of Old Road, Beverley, Yorkshire, was handed a sentence of four months in prison suspended for 12 months over his failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment in his capacity as a private consultant. He must also pay £1,600 in costs.
Warren Spencer, prosecuting for Cheshire Fire And Rescue Service, described a slew of issues dating back to September 2011 that were discovered after a false alarm.
Croftwood was subsequently served with a notice demanding it remedy the ‘deficiencies’, only for firefighters to return and find ‘no evidence’ they had been dealt with by March 2014.
Mr Spencer said the home’s residents were a ‘high risk’ group because of their old age and in some cases infirmity or dementia, including one client who was bed-bound and on end-of-life care.
He said problems included failing to make a proper fire safety assessment, with the care home relying on one that might have been adequate for a ‘small shop’.
Mr Spencer said this left the home with ill-fitting doors and gaps around pipes and above doorways that would allow smoke and fire to spread and also block escape routes if a blaze broke out.
In addition he said the home did not have a smoke and fire detector in the roof space, nor was its detection system linked so that an incident in one area would be relayed across the premises.
Several rooms were missing smoke detectors.
Mr Spencer added that the home had failed to show it had suitable evacuation procedures in place.
He said that Croftwood’s failure to comply with its notice of deficiencies ‘can only suggest that the failures were systemic’.
At Warrington Crown Court on Thursday, legal counsel representing the company and the co-defendant each blamed the other party with Foote claiming that he only been tasked with drawing up a basic template for a risk assessment and the company arguing that the ex-firefighter was supposed to carry out a full assessment and had been recommended as an expert.
Neither could produce a contract to prove their respective claim.
Saba Naqshbandi, defending Surrey-based Minster Care, denied that problems were ‘systemic’, adding that they were due to a failure in communication rather than rooted in the profit motive.
She said the regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), had given the home a clean bill of health and praised its ‘respectful, dignified’ relations and ‘good banter and laughter’ with residents.
She added that a previous Cheshire Fire And Safety Service audit at Croftwood had not picked up on Croftwood’s problems.
A raft of improvements have also been brought in at the home, including the order of six evacuation sledges, she said, adding that some actions were taken after the home was served with a deficiencies notice.
She said the risk of fires occurring in care home roof spaces was low, with three in five years in the London Fire Brigade area.
In addition, Graham Foote had been recommended as an expert with 50 years of experience as a firefighter and consultant.
She urged Judge Tina Landale not to impose a financial penalty that could impede quality of service for residents at Minster’s 13 care homes, citing the company’s after-tax profits as £2.027m in 2015.
Ian Simkin, defending Foote, said his client had retired and therefore stood no chance of repeating his transgression and had been based in Hull in East Yorkshire, meaning he was unable to make a return visit to the care home.
Mr Simkin said his client did not think he had been tasked with completing a fire risk assessment but only with drawing one up for someone else to complete.
He said there had been a ‘breakdown in communication’ between his client and Minster.
Foote was a ‘family man who had worked all his life’, he said.
Minster Care and Foote had both pleaded guilty to four counts and one count respectively of failing to comply with a requirement where failure risks death or serious injury in case of fire.
The court heard both defendants were of previous good character.
According to the CQC, Croftwood has accommodation for up to 44 residents.
During her sentencing remarks, Judge Landale said: “The risk assessment is woefully inadequate.
“It’s properly described by the prosecution as ‘insufficient’.
“It’s a general template with little relevance to a care home.
“There’s no reference to staff training, evacuation strategy, fire safety strategy or compartmentation.
“I don’t accept that Mr Foote genuinely believed this was a draft document because there’s no evidence it’s a draft.
“It entirely misses the point of the risks posed to residents in the event of fire.
“I don’t accept the company’s submission that it had no reason to doubt the adequacy of the assessment put forward by Mr Foote.
“This was an experienced company with 12 other homes.”
Minster Care Management and Foote were given 28 days to pay their respective penalties.
Original source: Liverpool Echo