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Owners of Looe care home fined over fatal fall of Reginald Gibbings

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: October 19, 2012

TRAGIC FALL: Reginald Gibbings died after falling from the care home's window.

THE OWNERS of a Looe care home have been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling almost £136,000 after an elderly man died after falling from a window at the home.

Reginald Gibbings had dementia and was one month short of his 90th birthday when he fell from the window at Hillcrest House, on Barbican Road, in July 2008.

He lived opposite the home, and had been resident there for only five days before he fell through another resident's ground floor bedroom window, suffering multiple injuries which caused his death two days later.

The owners, Michael and Sharon Cotton, pleaded guilty to breaching Health and Safety Executive regulations when they appeared before Bodmin magistrates in July.

On Monday, at Truro Crown Court, Judge Philip Wassall ordered them to pay Mr Gibbings' funeral expenses and prosecution costs of £95,963. They were also fined £40,000.

Mr Gibbings, a retired precision engineer, had been married for 61 years to Jane, who was in hospital at the time after suffering a stroke.

Kat Brunner, for the prosecution, said that windows at the home had restrictors to prevent them being opened fully but in this case a central securing screw had not been tightened with an Allen key sufficiently to prevent it being opened wide.

Ian Dixey, for the defence, pointed out that the restrictor was not defective and met guidelines. "This is a very well-run home," he said.

"It was not a case of finding too late that the restrictor could be defeated. It was very much an isolated incident."

Judge Wassall found that the system was defective but not significantly so.

"The company should have made a better risk assessment and I do find it at fault," he said. "It undoubtedly created a danger to patients such as Mr Gibbings but was right at the lower end of the scale of seriousness.

"While the risk was foreseeable I find it was not significant, but the defendants fell short of the high standards required of them. Otherwise the standard of care was exemplary."

Following the hearing Mr Gibbings' son, Douglas, said: "Since the untimely and tragic death of my father, the family have been alternately angry, distraught and dismayed at what we believed to have been a wholly avoidable loss of life.

"His abrupt death was compounded because of the lasting trauma on his already infirm wife, my mother, who subsequently suffered further strokes resulting in her death five months later. It is more difficult to accept because of the fact that he was placed in the care of the home, whose dedicated wing for the care of people suffering from dementia should have had the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that he was absolutely safe."

After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive inspector, Sarah Baldwin-Jones, said: "This tragic incident could have been avoided if Hillcrest had fitted suitable window restrictors. Someone at the home was able to defeat the restrictor and consequently, Mr Gibbings, who was a very vulnerable person, was able to fall from a significant height."

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