Blaze-hit Rosepark owner wanted ‘best standard of care’

The owner of a care home where a fire killed 14 elderly residents said that he had opened the home so he could provide “the best standard of care” to the elderly.

Thomas Balmer was giving evidence to a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the fire at the Rosepark Care Home in Uddingston, Lanarkshire in 2004.

He opened the home in 1992 with his wife Anne as a “new challenge” despite not having any experience of running a nursing home and went on to open a further two.

The couple had been running the home for 13 years before a fire broke out in cupboard and ripped through the building. As well as the 14 deaths, four residents were injured when the blaze broke out.

Mr Balmer faced prosecution along with his wife Anne and their son Alan over alleged safety breaches, but the case collapsed in 2007 when a judge dismissed the charges. A fresh indictment was served in 2008, but those charges were also dropped.

Mr Balmer told the inquiry that the couple were motivated to open Rosepark after Mrs Balmer’s aunt needed residential care after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The couple had looked at residential care homes for her relative but found that there was “nothing acceptable” available.

He told the inquiry that they felt that opening the home was what they felt they “should be doing” with their lives, and had an interest in residential care because Mrs Balmer’s parents were also elderly.

On Wednesday, the 63 year-old told the inquiry that, while he had no direct experience of managing residential care homes, he wanted a “new challenge” in his working life and felt he had the “aptitude” to do so.

He said he had thought care homes were an “emerging market” after the sector was opened to the private sector.

Under questioning from Crown counsel James Wolffe QC, he said: “We felt this was exactly what we should be doing.

“We didn’t want to convert an old building but to buy a plot of land to build on so we could offer the very best care.”

Mr Balmer told the inquiry he had “picked the brains” of friends who were already involved in running care homes, and he also contacted

Lanarkshire Health Board, the regulators of residential care homes in the area, to ask them for advice.

In a letter shown to the inquiry dated December 1991, he wrote: “As this is our first venture in the nursing home field we are very eager to have everything just right and therefore would be grateful for any help you can give us.”

Before the health board granted a licence to Rosepark, they sent a team to the site and advised the Balmers on matters including health and safety and employment issues.

He also admitted that he was financially “fearful” as he set up the home, and tried to save money by overseeing the building work himself. He was responsible for sourcing contractors to erect the building and install heating and electricity. He said he was keen to complete the building “fairly quickly” so residents could move in.

And it was his priority to ensure that the building work was completed “on time and on budget”, the inquiry heard.

The Balmers ran Rosepark and its sister home Croftbank as a family “team” with their son Alan.

Mr Balmer said he looked after matters of business, and spent up to 80% of his time at Rosepark while Mrs Balmer dealt with “the social side of things”.

Their son was based at Croftbank and was in charge of information technology, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry, held at the Gospel Literature Outreach Centre in Motherwell, is being held to try to establish the full circumstances of the tragedy, prevent a similar fire from happening again, and to establish if any precautions could have been taken to avoid the deaths.

The inquiry, before Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart, started in November and is expected to last until the summer.