Wednesday 16 January 2019
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Worker Rebecca Reasbeck 'started fatal care home fire'

A care home worker killed an elderly resident by deliberately setting fire to her room so she could act as a heroine, a court has been told.

Irene Herring, 85, was rescued by firefighters from her top-floor room at Ancaster Court in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, on 1 February 2009.

She died in hospital the following day from pneumonia brought on by smoke inhalation, Lewes Crown Court heard.

Laundry worker Rebecca Reasbeck, 20, from St Leonards, denies manslaughter.

Dementia-sufferer Mrs Herring was bedridden and unable to communicate verbally after a series of strokes.

"We allege that the defendant deliberately set fire to Irene's bedroom in two separate places," prosecutor Anthony Haycroft told the jury.

He said Ms Reasbeck, who was then 17, pretended she could smell smoke shortly before a fire alarm sounded.

"We say this was because she set the fire to get attention and act as the heroine," said Mr Haycroft.

'Plastic burning'

"Unfortunately, the fire got out of control. It generated so much smoke no-one could get to Irene and she died as a result."

Ms Reasbeck, of London Road, worked in the Bupa-run care home's laundry at weekends and was a kitchen assistant in the week. The fire took place on a Sunday.

Mr Haycroft said the laundry room was on the top floor of the three-storey building.

At about 09:45 GMT nurse Sindhu George and care assistant Jimmy Fyffe saw Ms Reasbeck coming from the the direction of Mrs Herring's room.

She told them she had smelled plastic burning and come to investigate.

The fire alarm sounded moments later, which meant that all the doors to the 12 residents' rooms on the floor automatically closed.

As the building was evacuated the nurse in charge, Maria Chatto, saw smoke seeping out from Mrs Herring's room.

Another care assistant, Steven Walter, noticed Reasbeck outside the room and heard her saying, "Oh my God".

She told him they had to get Mrs Herring out but they were met with a wall of thick black smoke and could not enter the room.

Firefighters then arrived and rescued Mrs Herring but she died the next day with her husband at her side.

Burn marks

Mr Haycroft said it was found the fire had been started in two places.

A cushion from a commode chair in the room was found under the spare bed and burn marks on it were found to correspond to those on the commode seat.

The second fire was found to have started on an electric reclining chair in the room.

The court heard a post-mortem examination on non-smoker Mrs Herring found she had no drugs or alcohol in her system.

Jurors were told the case was a re-trial and Ms Reasbeck had originally been charged with murder.

The trial continues.