Great Grandfather burned alive due to lack of risk assessment for smokers in care home

An outraged family has hit out at a care home for not properly conducting a risk assessment for smokers after a partially-paralysed great grandfather ‘burst into flames’ as he smoked a cigarette.

Wheelchair-bound Cedric Skyers was burned alive when his cigarette set his clothes on fire as he smoked in the garden of the Bupa Manley Court care home in New Cross, London.

An inquest heard he had to be identified by his dental records and would have survived had he been wearing a fireproof apron, been supervised or had an alarm.

The 69-year-old’s son said his father, ‘was left for more than 45 minutes alone and in that time burst into flames,’ adding: ‘Nobody deserves to die the way my dad did.’

The horrific tragedy happened in the garden of the Bupa care home on March 13, 2016 – just three days after Mr Skyers’ 69th birthday.

Mr Skyers could not use his left hand side after a having a stroke and had limited mobility, Southwark Coroner’s Court was told in the three day inquest.

The ‘smooth talking and charming’ retired labourer would have survived had a more in-depth risk assessment been completed and appropriate fire safety measures been in place, the coroner ruled.

Staff told the inquest how only bed bound residents were supervised and Mr Skyers was assessed as being able to smoke safely and did not like supervision.

Jamaican-born Mr Skyers had four children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

His son David Skyers, 38, said in a statement after the inquest: ‘Nobody deserves to die the way my dad did. We hoped that he had had something like a heart attack and then caught light but that wasn’t the case.

‘He was left for more than 45 minutes alone and in that time burst into flames. It is too horrific to think of the suffering that he may have been through. Even when staff finally noticed that he was ablaze it took ten minutes to put out the fire.’

‘How was it that he didn’t have an alarm or a fire blanket and could have been left alone for so long?

‘I went to the hospital after the incident to be told he had already died. He had to be identified by his dental records as he was unrecognisable.

‘Nobody should have to go through what we have as a family and Bupa’s despicable behaviour has just rubbed salt in the wounds.

‘It is crucial that care homes take measures in the form of a proper risk assessment to protect their vulnerable patients and ensure another family doesn’t have to deal with the horrific ordeal we have had to endure.’

Recording a short-form narrative verdict Dr Andrew Harris concluded: ‘He would have survived if he had been supervised and if it had been easy to extinguish the fire.

‘The risk of him being alone was not appreciated. His medical cause of death was extensive burning. Staff were unaware that some of his laundered clothes had burn marks.

‘He was seen to be on fire and attempts were made to extinguish the fire by water and smothering, which was effective. It lasted less than five minutes.

‘It had been caused by the breeze fanning his smouldering clothes, burnt by his lit cigarette.

‘The emergency services attended promptly and despite full resuscitation he died in hospital.’

Dr Harris noted Bupa now had ‘better equipment and better awareness’ on how to manage fires.

Nurse Odion Upasen Imieh, who carried out cardio pulmonary resuscitation on Mr Skyers, broke down as she remembered him as a ‘funny’ and ‘lively’ man.

Pointing out the changes which have been imposed since his death, she told the court: ‘I always check residents’ clothing to make sure there is no cigarette burns on their clothing.

‘I always make sure they (the residents) wear aprons that are provided by the home – they are fire retardant. I make sure the garden is safe and there is no litter and the fire bucket is in place as well.’

Tim Deeming, a specialist medical lawyer from Slater and Gordon which represents the family, said: ‘It is difficult to think of a more traumatic and horrific catalogue of events and failures that led to Mr Skyers’ death.

‘He was a vulnerable wheelchair dependent patient who was paralysed down one side of his body following a stroke, yet he was not subjected to a proper risk assessment and supported by Bupa.

‘It is fundamental that this is never allowed to happen again at Bupa and that every other care home and provider of support for vulnerable individuals learns lessons to improve risk assessment and ensure that such catastrophic avoidable tragedies are prevented.’

The coroner is considering a report to prevent further deaths. If written, Bupa must respond in writing within 56 days outlining what action, if any, is being taken.

Kay Cox, the Director of Bupa’s Care Services in London, said in a statement: ‘Mr Skyers’ family and friends are very much in our thoughts.

‘He was a wonderful man who had a strong circle of friends in the home and he is greatly missed.’