Sheffield care home fined over death of pensioner who drank toilet cleaner

Matthew Johnson, Raymond Johnson and Liz Smith
Matthew Johnson, Raymond Johnson and Liz Smith
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A CARE home in Sheffield has been ordered to pay nearly £30,000 in fines and legal costs for breaching safety rules after the horrific death of a vulnerable pensioner.

Derek Johnson, an 80-year-old retired accountant, died just a month after moving from his Gleadless house to Newfield Nursing Home, Cat Lane, Heeley in June 2009.

Derek Johnson, who died after drinking toilet cleaner.

Derek Johnson, who died after drinking toilet cleaner.

A childless bachelor who was registered blind, Mr Johnson died after drinking toilet cleaner in his room.

Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard home owners Palms Row Health Care breached health and safety laws and “fell substantially below the required standard in its management of the home”.

Michael Elliker, on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said staff regularly left trolleys carrying toxic products in the corridors.

He said: “The cleaning products were not covered or secured in any way. At lunch times the trolley would be left in a ‘staff only’ corridor which was accessible through unlocked double doors.”

On July 20 a care worker found Mr Johnson vomiting a frothy blue-green liquid. A bottle of toilet cleaner was found in his bathroom.

He was rushed to hospital but died that evening of phosphoric acid poisoning.

Mr Elliker said he could not prove the care home’s failings were a “significant cause” of Mr Johnson’s death because there was no evidence as to how he came to drink it.

He had told friend Harry Collier he “wished to die and wished he had some poison” a few days before the incident.

Mr Elliker said he could not exclude the possibility that Mr Johnson “deliberately swallowed the toilet cleaner.”

But he said safety breaches constituted a “substantial contributory factor” to his death.

James Thompson, defending, said the firm “fully accepted their shortcomings.”

“They have worked very, very hard to ensure that they have learned from the shortcomings laid bare by this tragic incident.”

He said they spent £55,000 a year on safety and had spent an extra £30,000 on a review.

District judge Anthony Browne fined the company £15,000 out of a maximum £20,000 and ordered them to pay £14,472 in investigation and legal costs.

He said: “Nothing that is said or done here today can take away the sadness felt by Derek Johnson’s family.”

Mr Johnson’s younger brother Raymond, 80, from Beighton, told The Star he decided to put him into care because he was worried he would have an accident at home.

“I thought my brother would be safe there. It turned out to be what I feel is the worst mistake I have ever made in my life.”

Nephew Matthew, 38 added: “We have lost a very close and dear member of our family.”