Care Home Couple Under Investigation After Death Of 12 Residents

The manager of a nursing home and her husband are being investigated over the suspicious deaths of 12 elderly residents, it has emerged.

Police questioned nurse Rachel Baker, 46, and her husband Leigh last December over the suspected poisoning of four women and a man.

Detectives exhumed three bodies for the inquiry into the deaths at Parkfields in Butleigh, Somerset.

But on Tuesday police said the couple were being investigated over seven more suspicious deaths bringing the total to 12.

The home had been owned by Mr Baker’s parents and run by his wife for more than a decade.

Mr Baker worked as a chef preparing meals for the 25 residents who were housed in the main house and bungalows in the grounds.

Police launched the murder inquiry after the death of Lucy Cox, 97, on New Year’s Day, 2007.

Mr and Mrs Baker were arrested days later on suspicion of administering a noxious substance and the home was closed in March that year.

Police then widened their investigation and began looking into other suspicious deaths.

Mr and Mrs Baker, who have a six-year-old daughter, were re-arrested in December and quizzed about theft, unlawful possession of controlled drugs and perverting the course of justice.

They were then bailed and waited 10 months as police carried out toxicology tests from the exhumations.

The couple’s bail has been extended to January 2009.

As part of their inquiry police were given permission to exhume the  remains of Nellie Pickford, 89, Fred Green, 81, and Marion Alder, 79, to carry out toxicology tests.

The other resident, an unnamed woman, is also understood to have died within the past two years and had been cremated.

Remarkably the home had been praised for its ‘comfortable and homely atmosphere’ by the Commission for Social Care six months before the couple were arrested.

Staff were described as friendly and were observed throughout the day being ‘kind and caring towards residents’.

But a follow-up inspection carried out after Lucy Cox’s death found  ‘total lack of cooperation’ by staff and ruled that standards had dropped considerably.

The exhumations of the bodies was the first time Avon and Somerset Police had resorted to such measures.

The remains of Nellie Mary Pickford were the first to be removed from a graveyard in a series of exhumations earlier this year.

They were conducted under sealed tents in the middle of three summer nights prior to post mortem examinations held to look for the presence of any poisonous substances.

Detective Superintendent Trevor Simpson said at the time: ‘Exhumation is a very drastic step and we have had to consider long and hard as to whether it is necessary.’

During the investigations neighbours of the Barkers described them as ‘lovely people’.

Maureen Wade, 71, said: ‘When you are old, which I am, this sort of thing strikes a cold chill down your spine.

‘I have spoken to residents who live in the nearby bungalows – there is a widespread feeling of complete disbelief. It has got the village talking.’

Christine Berry, 60, who lives 200 yards from the home, said: ‘Most people have been surprised and amazed by this whole saga.

‘People who I know who have lived in the bungalows and flats at the site have previously had only good things to say about it.’