Operator of fire-hit care home fined £400,000 for putting residents' lives at risk

A burnt-out chair in a resident's room at Donwell House Care Home. Pic: TWFRS.

A burnt-out chair in a resident's room at Donwell House Care Home. Pic: TWFRS.

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The operators of a Wearside care home have been left with a £400,000 bill for five breaches of fire safety regulations, uncovered after a blaze in a resident's bedroom

Shaftesbury Care Group Ltd, which runs Donwell House Care Home in Washington, was fined £380,000, plus costs of £29,222, at Newcastle Crown Court on Tuesday.

Some of the damage at Donwell House Care Home after the 2014 blaze. Pic: TWFRS.

Some of the damage at Donwell House Care Home after the 2014 blaze. Pic: TWFRS.

It had admitted five separate breaches of fire safety regulations at a previous hearing on February 10.

They were uncovered when Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Service investigated the blaze in the bedroom of a resident on Saturday, September 13, 2014.

Officers discovered that fire doors had been wedged open when they should have been closed, and just under half of the building’s fire extinguishers had been condemned by the company’s appointed contractor.

Additionally, the company failed to carry out a number of actions identified in a fire risk assessment, including installing electronic devices which would have allowed fire doors to be held open while enabling them to be quickly closed in an emergency.

Donwell House Care Home in Washington.

Donwell House Care Home in Washington.

In the fire which broke out at the care home, the bedroom door of an elderly resident’s room was wedged open. As a result, smoke and heat quickly filled the communal corridor and spread into a neighbouring bedroom, which also had its door wedged open.

There was a delay in identifying the room where the fire had started, and an elderly woman became trapped in her bedroom.

Staff were unable to evacuate her from the building due to the amount of smoke and heat in the corridor.

Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the building through a first floor window and rescued the pensioner. She was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, for treatment.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Community Safety Chris Lowther said: “The breaches found at this care home put the lives of residents and staff at risk.

“We have around 5,000 interactions with businesses annually, where we work to educate and inform them of their responsibilities to comply with the law.

"This means that there is seldom the need for prosecution. However, where lives are put at risk and the law has been broken, we will not hesitate to prosecute.

“This fine imposed by the judge is one of the most significant we are aware of for a case of this kind.

"It should serve as a warning to businesses, and especially care home operators, that failure to carry out their responsibilities regarding fire safety can and will have serious consequences.”