A devastated mother and daughter today claimed they may never understand how a beloved grandmother came to suffer a broken neck while staying at a care home.
An inquest was told Norah Timings had two fractures in her neck, a broken nose and a broken finger when she died in hospital on November 6, 2010, aged 94.
The inquest, which has taken more than four years to be heard, was told it was known that Mrs Timings had suffered an “unwitnessed” fall in her bedroom at Orchard Lodge, South Shore, on October 20 that year, leaving her with a cut head. But the family says that four days later, on October 24, she was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital after they found her “slumped” in a chair with a bruised face.
And it was only then an X-ray showed the great-grandmother had fractures to her top two vertebrae.
Coroner Alan Wilson concluded that while the circumstances of the fall were “not clear”, he was satisfied her injuries resulted from it.
But the family said they do not accept that, and cannot understand how her broken neck was not detected until she went to hospital four days later.
Her daughter Valerie Gill told The Gazette: “They (the hospital) said she had a broken neck and I was so shocked. But she hadn’t had a fall, as far as I knew, since October 20.
“I feel traumatised by what happened. She had no dignity at the end.”
Before the inquest was held investigations were launched by the police and care home watchdog the Care Quality Commission into Orchard Lodge. No prosecutions were brought.
The court heard how it was the family’s belief that not all Mrs Timings’s injuries were “as a result of a fall”, but coroner Alan Wilson said there was “no evidence at the moment to suggest there was an assault on Mrs Timings at the nursing home”.
She was known to be at “high risk” of falling due to her ailments, which included dementia.
The court heard how Mrs Timings was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital for a final time on October 24, 2010, after her family feared for her health having found her “slumped” in a chair, with a bruised face and suspected broken neck.
She had earlier been taken to hospital on October 20 after suffering the “unwitnessed” fall – but no fractures were reported, the hearing was told.
And the family say they are haunted by what changed in those four days.
Solicitor Sophie Cartwright, representing Orchard Lodge Care Home in court, said: “There is no evidence of a further fall.”
And pathologist Dr Sameer Shatawat said: “It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone of this age to have a fracture like this from a fall of that nature.”
But Mrs Timings’ grand-daughter Vanda George asked Dr Shatawat during the hearing whether it would be possible for a person to carry out activities such as walking, talking and eating for four days with a broken neck.
He replied that it was “unlikely”.
The court also heard Mrs Timings had suffered a number of falls since moving to the home in January 2010 which led to mattresses being placed around her bed in case of falls in the night and her being checked on hourly.
Following the “unwitnessed fall” staff members at the home, on Lytham Road, gave statements, but the court heard they appeared to conflict one another regarding who had found Mrs Timings and where she was in her bedroom and where there was blood.
Former care home manager, Simon Croft, said: “She was disorientated and distressed and had a cut.
“She’d had a fall to sustain that injury but it wasn’t obvious why the blood was in the place it was. No-one knew what had happened to her.”
Mrs Timings was born in Birmingham during the First World War and met her husband, Norman, while they were each holidaying with friends in Blackpool in 1939.
She worked in a car factory for much of her life and had a daughter, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Her devoted grand-daughter, who visited her daily at the home, said: “She was lovely and funny, she was always making quips, and she worked hard all her life.
“She was a strong person and always healthy. My grandad said she’d live to be 100.”
But in the years before her death Mrs Timings developed vascular dementia and Alzheimers, and the court heard she also suffered with high blood pressure and osteo arthritis.
When she suffered a stroke in late 2009, causing blindness in one eye, doctors advised she had round-the-clock care in a nursing home.
After hearing the evidence, the coroner ruled: “Mrs Timings died from natural causes which were more than minimally contributed to by fractures of two vertebrae during an unwitnessed fall.”
Her medical cause of death was listed as aspiration pneumonia due to dementia and cerebral infarction, and two fractures, a urinary tract infection, osteo arthritis and hypertension as contributory but not a cause.
Mr Wilson said: “Mrs Timings had a number of significant illnesses and she was at high risk of falls.
“The exact circumstances of the [unwitnessed] fall are not clear. There were conflicting accounts but evidence suggests something happened.
“I’m clear the injuries did follow from the fall had in her room. Such injuries were suffered during an incident at around 11.15pm on October 20, 2010.”