Sussex

St Michaels Hospice, St Leonards, fined over fatal fire

St Michael's Hospice
Image caption The hospice has been rebuilt since the fire nearly three years ago

A hospice where three residents were killed by a fire has been fined £250,000 for its "woefully inadequate" safety measures.

The blaze at St Michael's Hospice in St Leonards, East Sussex, led to the evacuation of 23 people.

But, Hove Crown Court heard, staff were ill-trained to deal with such an event, and the main fire exit was locked.

Judge Christine Henson, who slammed the hospice's safety measures, also ordered it to pay £165,000 in costs.

Managers at the hospice admitted two fire safety breaches, and its denial of 11 other indictments was accepted by the court.

'State of panic'

Pearl Spencer, 78, Jill Moon, 62, and David Denness, 81, died in hospital after suffering smoke inhalation.

Patient Rodney Smith, 67, was charged with arson after the fire on 11 July 2015 but died in jail before his trial.

In pre-sentence reports for the prosecution, Mr Sailesh Mehta said it was clear that staff had "no appropriate training for the evacuation of residents, holes in the ceilings allowed smoke to spread, locked exit doors could not be readily opened".

He said the main fire exit was locked, and there was no proper evacuation training for staff.

"Nurses were in a state of panic - they tried to stop it [the fire] with towels to no avail.

"Some patients had to be put on a small filing cabinet to wheel them along as there were not enough wheelchairs available," he said.

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In its defence, the hospice said it was unaware of the defects "ruthlessly exposed" by the fire, and it accepted "blameworthiness for failing to make the premises as safe as it should have been".

Court proceedings were brought by East Sussex Fire Authority in May last year.

Image caption Twenty-three elderly patients, some of whom were terminally ill, and nine members of staff were in the hospice

The hospice said the fine would be paid from reserves and costs from elsewhere.

It was reduced by 30% due to St Michael's charitable status.

Mr Smith was a terminally ill patient at the hospice when the blaze broke out.

Twenty-three elderly patients, some of whom were terminally ill, and nine members of staff were forced to leave the building.

Ten residents had to be taken to hospital for treatment.

In a statement on Wednesday, chair of the hospice Irene Dibben, and chief executive Karen Clarke said: "We remain truly sorry for the pain and anguish caused by the fire.

"We also share the pain of our own staff and volunteers, many of whom are still coming to terms with the full devastation of the fire.

"We need to decide as an organisation the best way to settle the fine. In light of this, there will be no further comment at this stage."

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