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Masonic bosses fined 100,000 over elderly woman's death

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The Herald - Scotland

Masonic bosses fined 100,000 over elderly woman's death


Scotland's Masonic bosses were fined 100,000 today over the mystery death of an elderly woman -after admitting that a faulty window had been ignored for years.

Widow Leah Bell, 87, was found in her night clothes in the garden of a two-storey Victorian villa in up-market Ravelston Park in Edinburgh, which is run as a care home.

She had smashed both her legs in a 22ft fall from a tiny flat roof outside her room and died later in hospital.

On her bedside table she left her husband's obituary notice and had stuffed her pillows under her bedclothes, making staff at the home believe she was still in bed.

An investigation decided there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death, fiscal Dev Kapadia told Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

But it was also revealed that frail Mrs Bell had been able to prise open a window in her room, which staff at Sir James McKay House Care Home thought was stuck fast with paint, and climb out onto the section of roof.

A charge was brought against Grand Master Sir Archibald Orr-Ewing and Grand Secretary David Begg in their roles as trustees and principal office bearers of the Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland and in court they admitted a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

They admitted failing to identify the need to fix window restrictors and failing to train employees to check window restrictors were in place which were not damaged and to replace or fix them immediately if they were damaged or missing.

Fining the Grand Lodge, Sheriff Gordon Liddle said: "This is a tragic set of circumstances where, because of an inexcusable failure to secure a window and a continued failure to realise it had not been secured an old lady died"

The sheriff noted that although both Mrs Bell's legs were broken it was some time before she passed away in hospital.

"She may not have realised what was going on but her family must have suffered dreadfully."

Mr Kapadia explained how Sir James McKay House was run from benevolent funds looked after by the Masons.

Mrs Bell came to live there on February 24 2006 - just two weeks before her death. At the time, her health was said to be generally good and she showed no signs of dementia.

However, Mrs Bell became confused and frightened, claiming that people were out to kill her and she wished to leave the home.

A GP called in to see her diagnosed a urinary tract infection as the reason for her confusion, said Mr Kapadia.

On the night before the accident Mrs Bell, like other residents, was regularly checked during the night, he continued.

"The last check was at 6am but the staff did not check closely for fear of waking her. They saw a lump in the bed and took it she was still sleeping."

The court heard that shortly after 6am on March 10 Mrs Bell was found lying outside. Paramedics found she was still conscious but cold and bleeding heavily from an open fracture. She was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary but died just before midday.

Mr Kapadia said that during the investigation which followed it emerged that an inspection of the home as far back as September 2002 identified a problem with the windows.

They should all have been fitted with restrictor devices to prevent them opening more than a few inches.

The court heard that all the windows in the premises had been made safe, except for two which were of an older design - one of them in Room 17 where Mrs Bell came to stay. The sill of the window was only 75cm from the floor.

"Staff thought that was painted shut," said Mr Kapadia. "In any case, the statutory requirement would not be met by the window being painted shut."

The fiscal said: "Had a suitable and sufficient risk assessment been done, the manager would have realised that in order to prevent vulnerable persons getting out onto the flat roof at Room 17 they would have had to have a more secure way of fastening the window."

The last check of the fatal window had been in January 2006.

Solicitor Duncan Mawby, defending the Masons, said: "This was a most unfortunate and preventable accident and one for which the Grand Lodge accepts full responsibility.

"They accepted at an early stage that there have been failings on their part. Steps have been taken to address the issues that led to this incident. Lessons have been learned and incidents such as this should therefore never re-occur"

He said Mrs Bell should probably not have been in the home and should not have been above the ground floor.

Sheriff Liddle blasted the running of the care home as "slovenly" for missing the window in Mrs Bell's room at a time when work was carried out on the rest, and for assuming it was stuck with paint.

"Not enough to prevent an old and frail lady getting it open," he said.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland owns and administers two care homes - Sir James McKay House and The Marcus Humphrey House, in Bridge of Weir - which are registered with the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care.

They are open to Freemasons, their dependants and others who require care in a residential setting and have a total of 40 places - 23 of them at the Ravelston Park address for people over 65.

The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland was founded in 1736 and is the head office for Freemasonry lodges in Scotland and overseas.

Mr Begg was in court today to watch proceedings but left without comment.

Further Reading:

UK Freemasonry in the News, have the 'Brethren' finally met their Waterloo?