Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Bonnyrigg care home guilty plea over OAP's death

Sheila Whitehead Image copyright family handout
Image caption Sheila Whitehead died after falling down stairs at the care home

A charity responsible for a Midlothian care home where a grandmother fell down stairs to her death has pleaded guilty to health and safety violations.

Nazareth Care Charitable Trust admitted to not doing enough to prevent Sheila Whitehead, 87, from losing her life at its care home in Bonnyrigg.

Mrs Whitehead died after falling down stairs at the facility on 16 May 2017.

The family welcomed the plea and said it brought them "some degree of closure".

Mrs Whitehead had poor eyesight and managed to stumble past a red rope which was supposed to hold residents back.

However, investigators found the rope was not strong enough to bear any great weight.

Staircase assessed

Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard how workers at the home found her lying in a foetal position with blood pouring from her head.

Staff members phoned for an ambulance but Mrs Whitehead, who had lived at the home for four years, died from her injuries in hospital.

The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the pensioner's death.

They concluded that the charity should have had physical barriers at the top of the staircase to prevent residents from using it.

Owners at the trust responsible for the Nazareth House property were later charged with breaching health and safety laws.

On Thursday, the trust pleaded guilty to breaching sections three and 33 of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Defence advocate Susan Duff told the court that a health and safety consultant had earlier assessed the staircase and concluded that handrails needed to be installed.

She said the consultant did not say anything about the red rope.

She added: "He did not say anything about the red rope or the need for a physical barrier to prevent a fall."

'Deeply upset'

Mrs Duff said that if the consultant had mentioned the need for a physical barrier, the charity would have installed one.

The advocate said that as a consequence of Mrs Whitehead's death, the charity had improved its health and safety measures and employees had been given training to highlight risks to residents' safety.

She added: "The death of Mrs Whitehead has affected staff greatly - they were deeply upset.

"The staff at the home strive to create a happy, comfortable and safe environment for their residents who are people who cannot live alone.

"The chief executive of Nazareth Care Charitable Trust is present in court today and he has instructed me to to tender his deepest condolences to Mrs Whitehead's family."

The family's lawyer, Natalie Donald, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: "The family have welcomed the care home's guilty plea and await to see what sentencing will produce on the 5th of November.

"They are still grieving the terrible loss of their mother and grandmother, but this has brought them some degree of closure."

"Ultimately, the family's concern was that no-one else would have to go through what they have. Too many elderly people suffer tragic accidents in care homes, and they are hopeful that this conviction will help prevent such incidents happenings in the future."

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