Woman with suspected dementia who died in fire was failed by care authorities, son tells hearing

The son of a 74-year-old woman with suspected dementia who died in a house fire claims she was failed by authorities and left living in “disgusting” conditions.

Rosslyn Wolff died at her home in Myrtle Road, Romford, north-east London, after a fire broke out in the early hours of January 11.

London Fire Brigade said the blaze was likely to have been started by a discarded cigarette in her home, a pre-inquest review at a temporary coroner’s court site in Barking, east London, heard on Tuesday.

Her son Gary Parkin, 53, suspects she had undiagnosed dementia and claims she was failed by Havering Council and North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT).

The hearing heard that his mother had been detained as an inpatient at Whipps Cross Hospital under the Mental Act but was released in October 2021.

Mr Parkin claimed that two days before her release she told him she did not want to go home.

He alleged that a draft report compiled by NELFT showed there has been “missed opportunities” to help his mother, the inquest heard.

He said: “They said my mother had capacity, it now transpires in the report from NELFT she was never tested for capacity.”

He said her house was riddled with rats, mice and faeces, telling the coroner: “If I was to take you to my mother’s house now, you would see that is not a woman that had capacity.”

He added that the family had raised concerns with the council about her condition and living arrangements.

Mr Parkin called for the inquest to be heard before a jury but coroner Ian Wade QC decided against it.

Mr Parkin also wants the inquest to consider whether his mother’s rights under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights may have been breached.

Representatives from NELFT and Havering Council indicated they will oppose this, and Mr Wade said interested parties have 14 days to make written submission before he decides.

Article 2 says “everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law”, placing a duty on the state to safeguard people’s lives.

Giedrius Gencas, head of legal services at NELFT, conceded “there have been a number of shortcomings in care which have been acknowledged” in NELFT’s report.

The conclusion in an Article 2 inquest can have a “judgmental conclusion of a factual nature”, the chief coroner’s guidance says.

After the hearing, Mr Parkin said: “It’s just disgusting, how they can let a human being live like that is beyond me – it’s worse than Dickens.

“I think it is absolutely wrong, I think there should be an Article 2 inquest when the jury listen to the evidence.”

The inquest is expected to start on October 26.

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