Death case care home in Bonnyrigg fined just £40,000

Sheila Whitehead
Sheila Whitehead

Grieving relatives of a pensioner who fell to her death in a care home are “upset and disappointed” at a £40,000 fine imposed by a sheriff for health and safety violations.

The Nazareth Care Charitable Trust home in Bonnyrigg could have been fined any sum between £600,000 and £2.5 million. But a sheriff imposed the £40,000 fine, payable at £10,000 a year, ruling a greater amount was “excessive and disproportionate”.

In May 2017, Sheila Whitehead (87), who had poor eyesight and used a Zimmer frame, stumbled past a red rope which was meant to hold back residents from heading down the stairs.

Sheriff Thomas Welsh QC heard workers found her lying in a “foetal” position and bleeding heavily. Mrs Whitehead, who had stayed at the home for four years, later died from her injuries in hospital.

An investigation later found the rope wasn’t strong enough to bear any great weight and the charitable trust admitted not doing enough to prevent the tragedy.

Health and Safety Executive experts concluded that bosses at the charity should have had physical barriers at the top of the staircase to prevent residents from using it.

The trust later pleaded guilty to breaching sections three and 33 of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Legal papers lodged at the court stated that the trust failed to “identify and implement adequate measures required to control the risk of the said residents falling down a set of stairs” and Sheila “fell down the set of stairs sustaining severe injuries from which she died on May 16, 2017”.

Procurator fiscal depute Catriona Dow told the court that the trust has close links to the Sisters of Nazareth, an order of the Roman Catholic Church. She said that in the time leading up to the fall, a GP found that Mrs Whitehead’s eyesight was deteriorating and that she had cataracts.

Following sentencing, the lawyer for Mrs Whitehead’s family, Natalie Donald from Thompsons Solicitors, said: “I have been in touch with family members and they want to make it clear how upset and disappointed they are at the level of fine imposed.

“They cannot understand why such a low value has been put on the life of their very much loved mother and grandmother. They are also at a loss as to why a lower fine was imposed due to Nazareth Care Home being a charity.

“Why should a charity be held to a different standard from anyone else operating a care home? The view of both myself and the family is that too many elderly people suffer serious injury in care home accidents. This low-level fine sends completely the wrong message to those responsible for the care of Scotland’s elderly population.”