THEY were the most vulnerable members of society.

Frail, elderly and in desperate need of care, they should have been enjoying the best care money could buy – in clean and pleasant surroundings with qualified staff to look after their needs.

Yet they were let down by the very people in whom they placed their trust.

Police and health workers were so shocked when they raided a Hampshire retirement home in September 2008 after the death of a resident, they ordered its immediate closure.

They found pensioners left in urine-soaked beds, others endured painful bed sores and ulcers, while several were so ill they should have been transferred to specialist nursing homes.

Now owner Annette Hopkins, 61 and manager Margaret Priest, 56, have been warned they may be jailed over their systematic failings while they were running the 34-bed home.

Following a nine-week trial at Southampton Crown Court, they were convicted of wilful neglect of residents between January 2007 and August 2008.

Jurors convicted Hopkins, of Thorold Road, Bitterne, of nine charges and Priest, 56, of Lydgate Road, Hightown, of four. Both had denied all 16 charges against them – three of which were withdrawn by the judge during the trial – and they were acquitted of all remaining counts.

Defence barrister Amanda Hamilton asked for Priest to be conditionally discharged, saying she had devoted her time and attention to The Briars.

“She is a kind, caring and altruistic person. She has lost her job, she is unlikely to get another one and she is claiming state benefit.”

But ordering pre-sentence reports, the judge warned the pair: “Giving you bail is no indication of the way you will be sentenced. All sentencing options, including custody, remain open.”

Jurors heard a catalogue of failures with prosecutor Adam Feest alleging they had failed to adhere to the most basic standards in care and practice.

Police told how the full disturbing catalogue of failures included how:
■ Residents were malnourished and dehydrated
■ The place they called home had a strong stench of urine and the floors were filthy and faeces-stained
■ Dirty bedding and incontinence pads were left lying on the floor, mixed with clean clothing
■ Medication would be handed out by unqualified staff and was sometimes given to the wrong people
■ Bosses were not qualified but claimed they were through years of doing the job
■ Staff didn’t have the right equipment to lift residents who needed to move
■ The wrong beds were used, leaving residents with severe sores
■ Some were so ill or incapable they should have been in a nursing home.

The scandal was exposed when police raided the home following concerns about the treatment of residents.

The investigation had been under way for a week and was triggered by the death of former resident Ronald Reed, who had died at the city’s General Hospital on August 9. He had bed sores that were extremely large and infected.

His death sparked a review of a further eight deaths of residents in and around that time which flagged up glaring errors and omissions in the treatment and care of those living there.

Police searched the premises, assisted by social services staff, and were confronted by the stench of urine.

They found Hopkins upstairs. She was calm and didn’t appear to comprehend the enormity of what was happening.

Priest, however, did – seeing it as an end to a situation that she knew was spiralling out of control, according to detectives.

Police also found floors and furniture heavily stained, broken and inappropriate equipment, such as incorrect hoists being used to lift clients. On the walls, ‘amateur’ fluid charts had been drawn up by hand to show how much each resident had been given to drink.

Healthcare records, or care plans, were often incomplete, and medical and prescription drugs were being handed out by people with no qualifications.

Officers found wrong tablets had been given to people, or sometimes not given at all – but there was no record of where they went.

Detective Sergeant Paul Wright, leading the inquiry, said: “It was supposed to be a care home, yet it could not be further from the truth. There was no luxury, it was far from home from home.”

While residents all seemed happy with their home when asked, the appalling conditions were somehow also disguised from their relatives.

Many who viewed the “show room” were furious at their findings.

Bedrooms were bare with only the odd picture hanging on the wall to make it homely.

Book-keeping was virtually non-existent with key information noted on scraps of paper.

Det Sgt Wright said of the laundry room, littered with dirty clothing and incontinence pads: “There was no control whatsoever of cross-contamination.”

Residents showed signs of being malnourished and dehydrated while people with narrowing of the throat were being fed stew instead of pureed food.

Det Sgt Wright said: “Some residents appeared gaunt while others had severe dementia and were unable to communicate in the way that I thought they would for a care home. They should have been in a nursing home.”

The situation was so severe the priority was to get the residents out and close it down.

“It was quite critical. They simply knew they had to close it down. People were in serious danger of dying if we didn’t intervene.

“They relied on Hopkins and Priest to look after them. They were failed.”

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