Man found dead in Crawley flat was in ‘probable distress’

Centenary House in Durrington'Stock photo SUS-140325-095257001
Centenary House in Durrington'Stock photo SUS-140325-095257001

An elderly man who had no family or friends had been lying on his floor in ‘probable distress’ for days before he was found dead.

Jeffrey Warren, 87, of Albert Crane Court, Ifield, died from hypothermia and injuries from falling over in his flat – owned by Crawley Borough Council.

An inquest into his death, held at Centenary House, Worthing, on July 21, found a housing officer from Crawley Borough Council issued a safeguarding alert to social workers at West Sussex County Council, who asked the police to carry out a welfare check on Mr Warren.

PSCO Dionne Watling and Katy Aylett from Sussex Police found the key in his front door and a shopping trolley packed with bread and ready meals when they visited him on January 29, 2015.

PC Nev Whitely, who also called to the scene, said: “I was concerned about the safety of the individual. We heard a tap running. On entering the flat, I noticed it was very cold and felt damp.”

Mr Warren’s flat, which was decorated with circus posters, had scorch marks on the walls from gas heaters which housing officer Angela Smith, from Crawley Borough Council, said had been ‘condemned’.

However, despite a plan for housing officers to contact Mr Warren monthly, he was only seen once more by a housing officer and was ‘discharged’ by an older person’s support system after they struggled to get in touch with him.

Mrs Smith issued a safeguarding alert after a fire officer discovered a replacement heater had been resting against a sofa which was not flame retardant. The inquest heard Mr Warren had previously refused to have central heating put in his house.

Mrs Smith said: “He was a very nice man. He was just very clear about what he did and didn’t want.”

However, West Sussex County Council social services said they could not deal with the case and referred it to police.

Sergeant Pauline Lane, from Sussex Police said: “My initial thoughts were this is not a police matter.”

PC Lane said police will attend addresses but will submit a risk form ‘back to social services’.

Indra Pearson, from West Sussex County Council social services said: “There was a general feeling that we couldn’t take it any further. The referral we received didn’t seem appropriate to social services.”

Ms Pearson said she only referred it to police because of her ‘immediate concerns about the heating’ and the ‘danger of the fire risk’.

Police call handler Irene Harrison said Ms Pearson told her she had ‘concerns’ about Mr Warren but said a police welfare visit in the ‘next couple of days would be fine’.

Recording a conclusion of accidental death, assistant coroner for West Sussex Bridget Dolan said: “Mr Warren fell at home on or around January 24. He lay on the floor of his home suffering from broken ribs.

“No one can say the absence of a check failed to prevent a death but there was an opportunity lost.”

She said a post mortem revealed Mr Warren would have been in ‘probable distress’ and ‘pain’ before his death.

Mrs Dolan acknowledged there had been attempts to contact Mr Warren and accepted he was a difficult man to help.

However she added: “There hasn’t been a satisfying explanation why a man who need the extra input was so easily discharged.

“There doesn’t appear to be any joined up thought processes put into play.”

Mrs Dolan issued a prevention of future death report (PFD) directed at Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council.

She said the borough council has not reviewed its systems following Mr Warren’s death, added its systems for review are ‘unclear’ and said staff at West Sussex County Council do not appear to be aware of the police grading system for reporting cases.

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