That’s the verdict of Age Concern Hampshire on the failures of The Briars Retirement Home in Southampton that left pensioners suffering a catalogue of neglect.

Now they are urging older people, as well as their relatives and friends, to measure any potential care homes against a checklist they have drawn up.

Acting assistant director Yvette Christian said: “What happened at The Briars was despicable.

“We believe it is better for older people to stay in their own homes and keep independent where possible.

“Generally care homes are good homes and we hope that this case with the Briars was just a one off.”

She has spoken out after Briars owner Annette Hopkins, 61, of Thorold Road, Bitterne, was found guilty of nine charges of wilful neglect of residents between January 2007 and August 2008.

Manager Margaret Priest, 56, of Lydgate Road, Hightown, was found guilty of four charges.

Mrs Christian compared choosing a care home to choosing a school, stressing the importance of thoroughly visiting establishments, asking the right questions and looking at all available information.

“When you are looking for a home for a relative or a friend check to see whether there are things like unpleasant smells, and whether rooms are hot and stuffy or cold and draughty.

“Make sure that anyone moving in can use a telephone, has access to books and newspapers and can go outside for fresh air.

“It’s also worth checking whether residents have en suite facilities, can choose what clothes they wear, whether their dietary requirements will be met and if the home is registered.”

Anyone viewing potential care homes for relatives is also entitled to request inspection and assessment reports about establishments from the Care Quality Commission, responsible for regulating all care homes since April last year.

Mrs Christian welcomed the Commission’s greater powers to carry out more unannounced visits from anything from every three months to every two years.

The Briars - In Depth

Age Concern Hampshire provides a FREE care home checklist for anyone looking at potential care homes. For a copy call freephone 0800 328 7154.