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Safety checks at home of retired priest ‘not robust enough’, says coroner

PUBLISHED: 15:20 02 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:19 03 March 2019

The Coroner's Court at Beacon House in Ipswich  Picture: ARCHANT

The Coroner's Court at Beacon House in Ipswich Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

The Catholic Church has been advised to take action to prevent future deaths after a Canon died following a fall at his Suffolk home, a coroner has said.

Retired priest Brian Frost fell on June 30 last year and sustained severe head injuries.

Following an inquest, a coroner raised concern that the system for checking the safety of the house was “not sufficiently robust”, as the 92-year-old was known to fall regularly, and the kitchen floor tiles had become loose.

Canon Frost lived alone, and on the day of his death, neighbours went to his house after hearing strange noises from his garden.

An inquest heard that Canon Frost had fallen and suffered a nosebleed but refused ambulance or medical assistance. When neighbours returned that evening, they found him face down in the kitchen in a pool of blood.

Suffolk coroner Nigel Parsley ruled the death an accident but said evidence revealed “matters of concern” and a risk of future deaths unless action is taken.

The inquest heard that bishops of each diocese are responsible for accommodating retired priests under “grace and favour” tenancy.

The general understanding is that the diocese provides the property and the retired priest is responsible for maintenance with an annual payment to cover costs.

However, the coroner said that the system of welfare checks was “not sufficiently robust and there was no independent assessment for health and safety risks”.

“The system appears flawed, depending on the tenant, as it relies on the tenant retaining the mental capacity to identify hazards and make requests for repairs,” Mr Parsley said.

“The welfare system failed to identify and remedy the fact that an obvious and serious trip hazard was present.”

The Diocese of Northampton, which owned the house, said all retired priests received visits from a clergy welfare officer and the diocesan property department; that Canon Frost also received regular visits from his locally based family, and that the council had visited and declared him able to live independently.

A statement read: “The coroner noted that the diocese did have a support mechanism in place but that it could be more robust in situations where elderly priests did not accept all the offers of help made by the diocese. As we are always willing to reflect on our practices, we have amended our approach accordingly.”

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