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Legal threat over care home

PUBLISHED: 14:11 15 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:02 03 March 2010

A SUFFOLK residential care home is today facing possible legal action after a 94-year-old woman plunged to her death from the open window.

Violet Southgate was a resident at Fairfield House, Tuddenham Road, Ipswich, when the tragedy happened.

A SUFFOLK residential care home is today facing possible legal action after a 94-year-old woman plunged to her death from the open window.

Violet Southgate was a resident at Fairfield House, Tuddenham Road, Ipswich, when the tragedy happened.

Since the her death the nursing home has installed safety measures on the windows, including barriers, metal bars and safety glass but a prosecution has not been ruled out.

The threat of legal action was confirmed today by a spokeswoman for Ipswich borough council, who said: "The papers are with the legal department for consideration and a decision will be made in the near future."

An inquest held at County Hall in St Helens Street, Ipswich, heard Mrs Southgate's granddaughter Alison Southgate describe her as an independent lady who had been at the nursing home since the beginning of last year.

She had arthritis and restricted movement in her limbs and it wasn't until her problems worsened that she went into a home. As her mobility was limited she rarely left the room.

The inquest heard Mrs Southgate's window in her room was always left slightly open but there was an absence of safety catches or locks, which is now being looked at by the council's legal department.

In the lead-up to her death Mrs Southgate was having heath problems and felt a little confused and distressed.

Just before she died Mrs Southgate's granddaughter, Alison - the last family member to see her alive - noticed her grandmother didn't seem her normal cheerful, bubbly self.

The grim discovery of the body was made by care assistant Daniel Nichols who found her on the grass. But police ruled out suspicious circumstances or foul play yesterday's inquest heard.

Ipswich borough council senior environmental health officer, Matthew Nothard, who conducted a detailed investigation after the death, said Mrs Southgate could have fallen through the window when leaning out, or climbed through the window in a confused state.

He added it was possible for a resident fall through the window if they lost their balance and didn't think that the window sill was wide enough to stop this happening.

He also couldn't rule out that Mrs Southgate was sitting on the edge of her raised bed and accidentally tumbled out.

As residents of a home are more prone to becoming confused so more protection is needed than a domestic home, he said.

Coroner Dr Peter Dean said: "Mrs Southgate was clearly an independent lady, a much loved lady with a very supportive family."

He recorded an open verdict saying as there where no eye-witnesses to the death it left a lot of unanswered questions.

Dr Dean said Mrs Southgate could have met her death through any number of ways: including sitting on the edge of her bed and tumbling out or becoming confused and deliberately opening the window.

"We can't exclude any possible reasons," he said before offering his condolences to her family.

No one from Fairfield House was available for comment today.


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