Care Home Death Exhumation Over

The “unprecedented” exhumation of an elderly woman’s body as part of an inquiry in to seven suspicious deaths at a care home in Somerset is complete.

Forensic officers began to remove the body of Nellie “Mary” Pickford, 89, at midnight on Wednesday. She is the first of three former residents at Parkfields residential home to be tested for drug poisoning.

Police said the operation at Glastonbury Cemetery had gone “smoothly” thanks to clear conditions.

Jill Fowler, who held a solitary vigil across the road from the cemetery said she did not know Mrs Pickford, but “just didn’t want her to be alone”.

“I just wanted to say a little prayer and light a candle,” she said.

It is understood a vicar was also in attendance to say prayers during the operation.

Along with Mrs Pickford’s death, detectives are also investigating the alleged poisoning of four other elderly residents at Parkfields, in the village of Butleigh.

The home’s former managers, Rachel and Leigh Baker, were originally arrested following the death of Lucy Cox, 97 on New Year’s Day.

Nurse Rachel Baker, 45, who was listed as the home manager, was arrested on suspicion of administering a noxious substance.

Her 48-year-old husband Leigh Baker, a chef at the home, was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the administration of a noxious substance.

Both have been bailed without charge until September.

Det Supt Trevor Simpson leading the case, said: “We are not talking about poisonings in the traditional sense.

“We are checking for drugs but we cannot go into details for operational reasons.”

Mrs Pickford’s body will be taken for a post-mortem examination later on Wednesday and results will be sent off for toxicology tests.

“The investigation began in January when we conducted the post-mortem of another resident (Lucy Cox),” Det Supt Simpson explained.

“As a result we have become suspicious about the other deaths. It is a drastic measure to carry out exhumations, but we feel it is essential.

“The family, who have been consulted throughout, are extremely upset and distressed.

Bodies buried in Butleigh and Somerton will be dug up within the next five weeks.

Police are unable to examine the bodies of three other former residents because they were cremated.

It is the first time in Avon and Somerset Police history that officers have taken the step of exhuming bodies.

The investigation began after an inspection by the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) in January.

A CSCI spokesman said: “We carried out an unannounced inspection at the home… and found that standards had

deteriorated significantly since the previous inspection in June 2006.”

An emergency closure notice was issued after standards failed to improve, the CSCI said.

Mrs Pickford’s body is expected to be released back to the family within three days so they can conduct a private re-burial service.