A care home company was ordered to pay £133,000 today after a woman with dementia was crushed to death when a wardrobe fell on her.
Claire Hughes, 64, was found underneath the wardrobe which had not been properly fixed to the wall at the Chase Care Centre in Printers Avenue, Watford.
The wardrobe had been locked because Mrs Hughes had become "obsessed" with clothing and would put on layer after layer when she was left alone, St Albans crown court heard.
But the wardrobe, which was on castors, had only been secured to plasterboard and not to the concrete wall. Screws at the top only went into chipboard and were not anchored.
On December 15, 2011, Edgware-born Mrs Hughes pulled down the wardrobe, which weighed 50 kilos and contained clothes weighing 11 kilos, on top of her. She had tugged off one of the doors, which had come away from its hinges. The cause of death was compression, said prosecutor Mark Watson.
Mrs Hughes had first met her husband Christopher when they were teenagers. They met again 40 years later and she married the retired company director in 2007 but she was then diagnosed with dementia. He had provided the chain and lock to prevent her opening the cupboard when she was alone. He attended the home to feed his wife who would not take food from anyone but him.
The company, which operates 37 homes and has its headquarters in Borehamwood, pleaded guilty to failing to discharge its duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Dominic Kay, defending, said: "It is a very, very sad case. Mrs Hughes was well-liked by the staff. The company expresses its regret and remorse to her family.
"It was not foreseen that she would use the force she did on the wardrobe. It is not a case of corner cutting. It was an oversight."
He said the company had operated for 25 years without any convictions or warnings from the Health and Safety Executive. All the home's wardrobes are now secured with longer screws and a timber baton that are fixed into the concrete wall.
Judge John Plumstead said he acknowledged that Mrs Hughes had been well-cared for at the home. But he said: "This unfortunate lady was intent on gaining access to her clothing. Steps should have been taken to ensure the wardrobe was fixed. The attempt to fix the wardrobe was botched. The wardrobe was very poorly secured indeed. The company failed in their duty to keep this lady safe."
He fined the company £85,000 and ordered it to pay £48,000 costs.