A Bradford care home has admitted a health and safety failing that led to an 85-year-old resident plunging to her death down a flight of unguarded steps.

Yesterday, a court heard how Kathleen Askham, who suffered from dementia and poor eyesight, had gained access to the ‘staff only’ kitchen area through an unlocked door and had then fallen down steps leading to the basement at Rosegarland Residential Home, in Thornton Road, Fairweather Green.

She was taken to hospital by ambulance, but died later the same day, February 1, 2011.

Rosegarland Residential Home Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £3,438 in costs after pleading guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

The company’s boss, Hanna Gumeniuk, wept as the court was told how her company regretted the incident.

Tom Gent, mitigating for Rosegarland, said: “It has caused the director of the company significant upset. The defendant company very much regrets what happened and has every sympathy for the family of Kathleen Askham.”

The court heard that a civil action for compensation had been settled.

Richard Winter, prosecuting on behalf of Bradford Council, said: “Kathleen Askham, who at that time was a resident at the home, had fallen down the steps to the basement and sustained injuries for which she was taken to hospital by ambulance where she died later the same day.”

A coroner’s report was read to the court which said, on the day of the tragedy, Mrs Askham had been “agitated” after her tea and had been assisted to a chair on two or three occasions in the lounge. She had then walked off while the two staff members on duty were dealing with another resident, the court heard.

Mr Winter said the combination of where entrances were located and the lack of suitable locks led to the “entirely avoidable” accident. The court heard how the door to the kitchen had a sign saying ‘staff only’ and a bolt that should have been locked when no staff member was in the kitchen.

But Mr Winter said that, had a digital lock been fitted to the door rather than a bolt, it would have been “impossible” for a resident to access the kitchen because only employees would have known the access code. A digital lock was fitted a short time after the fatal accident.

Mr Winter said: “The Council says that the bolt and the methodology to keep the residents safe was unsuitable. There had not been an appropriate risk assessment in respect that a resident might wander through the kitchen to the cellarhead.

“There had been an opportunity for the company to hear alarm bells because, prior to this accident on February 11, another resident was found to have been in offices built in the cellar. But the alarm bells did not ring sufficiently to do a risk assessment.”

Continuing his mitigation, Mr Gent said the company had entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity, had taken “swift” remedial action to prevent a repeat of the accident, and had a previously “spotless” health and safety record.

He said the company had received the top ‘three-star’ rating from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after a six-hour inspection in 2008, with the resulting report describing the home as a “safe, clean and well-maintained” environment.

In the same year, care home bosses had commissioned private health and safety consultants to help formulate a health and safety policy. Mr Gent said neither the CQC or the consultants had identified the need for “corrective action” in respect of the door leading to the kitchen or the need to fit digital locks.

But he said the failure to fit the digital locks was an “oversight” for which the company took responsibility.