Care Home Fire Victim ‘Should Not Have Been Left Alone’

A brain-damaged man who was not supposed to be left alone to smoke died in a fire at a care home while doing so, an inquest heard. Jason Wardle, who was wheelchair-bound died in a fire in his room at the Priory Grange Potters Bar; a home for adults with mental and physical disabilities.

He was a heavy smoker but needed someone else to light a cigarette for him and put it in his mouth, Hatfield Coroners Court heard on Tuesday. The Priory’s care plan for him said he was not to be left unattended while smoking. But a forensic report revealed that the remains of a cigarette butt was found stuck in the material of his wheelchair, suggesting Mr Wardle was smoking shortly before the fire.

Mr Wardle had become brain damaged after being found unconscious following a methadone overdose in 1999. He could not speak and had to spell out all words using a communication aid.

Hertfordshire Coroner Edward Thomas said: “I can understand that Jason must have been extremely frustrated. I expect smoking was important for him because there wasn’t much else for him.” Recording a narrative verdict, Mr Thomas concluded that the care home resident had ‘died from the effects of a fire while smoking on his own’.

Mr Wardle’s sister, Gemma Wardle, 23, of Chorley Wood, said the family was considering taking legal action against the home. She said: “We are quite pleased with the verdict, because my brother wasn’t capable of smoking a cigarette by himself – he shouldn’t have been left unsupervised. In the years he was brain damaged, Jason was so strong to get through what he did. For him to die the way he has seems like a waste for the way he struggled through it.”

A spokeswoman for Priory Grange said: “We would like to express our deepest sympathy for the loss of Jason Wardle. The Priory Group operates in a highly regulated sector, which ensures that resident safety is at the heart of our services. This is confirmed by the most recent Commission for Social Care Inspection report for the Priory Grange, Potters Bar, from April 30, 2007, which was extremely positive.

“We have co-operated fully with the police and fire services throughout their investigations and we are committed to continuing to work with the authorities to ensure as safe an environment as possible for of our residents.”