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Bupa hit with record fine after man burns to death in south London care home

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 06/01/2022 Josh Salisbury
Manley Court Care home 612022.jpg © Google Maps Manley Court Care home 612022.jpg

A care firm must pay a record £1.04m after a vulnerable resident died in a fire at one of its south London care homes.

Bupa Care Services (ANS) Ltd was fined £937,000 for fire safety failings relating to the death of Cedric Skyers and ordered to pay £104,000 prosecution costs at Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday.

It is thought to be the largest ever fine for fire safety failings in the UK.

Mr Skyers, a 69-year-old wheelchair user, died at the Manley Court care home in New Cross in March 2016 while smoking unsupervised in a shelter in the home’s garden.

A care assistant saw the fatal blaze from a first floor window and called 999 before staff attempted to put the fire out, but the pensioner sadly died of his injuries.

An investigation into the tragic death uncovered that although the home had carried out a risk assessment for Mr Skyers’s smoking, it had not considered the risk from use of emollient skin creams.

These creams, used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, can be highly flammable if allowed to build up on skin, bedding or clothing. Some can also contain paraffin.

Investigators also found apparent burn marks suggesting previous fire incidents on Mr Skyers’s clothing, which care home staff claimed they were not aware of.

Staff said if they had been aware of the previous burns, they would have made more regular checks when Mr Skyers was smoking.

Video: Fatal House Fire in Low Hill, Wolverhampton (Birmingham Mail)


Bupa admitted to several key fire safety failings, including not warning residents of the dangers of emollient skin creams and not ensuring staff understood the dangers of the products.

The London Fire Brigade, which prosecuted the case, said the case was an “absolutely tragic example” of the consequences of not complying with fire safety regulations.

Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Paul Jennings, said: “There are a number of measures which the home could have put in place to mitigate the fire risk which Mr Skyers’ limited mobility, emollient cream use and smoking posed – but none of these were implemented.

“Mr Skyers’ family should rightly have been able to trust that he would be safe in a care home, when sadly the opposite was true.

“Such a large fine highlights the seriousness of BUPA’s failure to protect a vulnerable resident in its care.”

Since 2015, coroners have issued at least six warnings involving emollients after the deaths of vulnerable people being cared for, according to an Evening Standard analysis.

Among those cases was the death of an immobile 61-year-old in west London who died in his bed at home after dropping a cigarette.

In a report, the area coroner voiced fears that safety warnings were not “being heeded by patients and Care Organisations responsible for caring for people in their own homes”.

And in another case in 2019 in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffs, a 76-year-old sadly died at her home in a fire accelerated by the use of the cream.

A report following her death said: “The concern is the lack of awareness of this problem by medical professionals, carers, victims and their families”.

The London Fire Brigade advises that those being treated with emollient creams should not smoke, and should keep away from naked flames such as candles.

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