Nurse pleads guilty to 11 murders
LISA DAVIES, STEPHANIE GARDINER, PAUL BIBBY
He was the aged-care nurse entrusted to treat the elderly and infirm, but instead Roger Dean started a fatal blaze and murdered 11 helpless residents.
Dean, 37, today pleaded guilty to 11 counts of murder following the fire that he stood by and watched as it engulfed the elderly residents of the Quakers Hill Nursing Home in Sydney, on November 18, 2011.
Three elderly residents died during the inferno and a further eight died from injuries afterwards.
Dean, wearing a black suit, blue tie and with his black hair worn long over his ears, looked at the ground as he quietly said guilty to each count, as relatives of the victims of the fatal blaze cried in the public gallery of the NSW Supreme Court, holding hands in solidarity.
In the same quiet voice, Dean also pleaded guilty to eight charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm.
He had already entered guilty pleas to two counts of larceny over the theft of painkillers, and they will be dealt with together with the more serious offences, Justice Megan Latham said.
Last year, Dean had offered to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, but it was rejected by prosecutors.
The Crown has previously alleged that Dean started the blaze at two separate points within the building and then stood by and watched as the blaze took hold.
The victims have been named as: Dorothy Wu, 85 and Alma Smith, 73, who both died at the scene; 87-year-old Reginald Green; Lola Bennett, 86; Ella Wood, 97, Urbana Alipio, 79, Caesar Galea, 82, Doris Becke, 96; Verna Webeck, 83; Dorothy Sterling, 80, and Neeltje Valkay, 90, who all died in various hospitals after the fire.
The scene which confronted authorities in the pre-dawn darkness that day 18 months ago was among the most horrifying experiences many rescuers had experienced, they revealed in the aftermath.
An automated fire alarm at 4.53am (local time) summoned two fire engines with crews of four.
They were there within six minutes, but parts of the single-storey home were already well alight.
At first crews had no idea how many people they had to rescue, where they were or how mobile they were.
Inside the burning ward rescuers could see nothing for the black smoke billowing from burning mattresses and furniture, and they could hear little above their respirators, NSW Fire and Rescue Deputy Commissioner Jim Smith told Fairfax Media at the time.
The firefighters reverted to training: Pattern searches along the walls and then into the middle of the rooms, a plan that led them to extinguish the twin blazes and save lives.
"When people ask me how I cope with something like that, well from my point of view all these people are alive today because of the fantastic job that the crews did," Smith said.
By the time the first crew had entered the building, the second crew from Blacktown had arrived and sent a "red message" calling for help to fight a second fire in an occupied room in another ward.
Backup was on the way.
The fire was in a room that held four elderly women, and it had spread to the ceiling. All four perished.
One of those was Mrs Becke, and her son Neale has said even though his mother was one of the first rescued, she never regained consciousness.
"Her bed was straight under the hole in the roof," Becke said.
"It's just my guess, and it seems right, is that she was in bed and that the roof was burning and bits of plaster were falling on top of her."
It took the family seven hours to track her to Blacktown Hospital where - covered in soot and suffering superficial burns all over her body - she was almost unrecognisable.
"I know she was an old lady at 96, but she didn't deserve to go this way," he said.
In the early minutes the rescuers tried to push beds out a side exit, but a handrail jammed the first bed. It had to be pulled back into the corridor.
Those who were rescued via that exit were carried to the door and passed to emergency workers outside. At this stage the firefighters knew anyone in the burning ward would die unless they were retrieved within minutes.
They probably also knew, Smith said at the time, that some of those rescued would never recover.
By 5.20am the firefighters and the firewalls had contained the blaze and by about 6am Smith was tackling the numbers.
Soon it was apparent two were missing. They were found, dead, in the room where the fire began.
By about 7am the rescue was over and a second more thorough search was conducted, before Smith handed the site to police.
Smith is sure smoke killed most of the victims, and it made the rescue extremely difficult.
He said materials used in the furniture had been banned in the US and Britain, and from Australian places of public entertainment, like football stadiums, but not in hospitals or nursing homes.
He also said having a sprinkler system would have saved lives.
That is a key plank of the rebuilding project, with developers revealing in February this year that the A$25 million (NZ$30m) project would have the most advanced fire-prevention devices in NSW.
It would also be three times bigger than the home where the elderly residents were killed and have a memorial garden dedicated to the fire victims.
Dean has shown little emotion during his previous appearances in court, usually via audiovisual link.
The only time he has spoken has been when he pleaded not guilty to murder late last year, which he did in a quiet voice.
On a number of occasions he has elected not to appear in court, choosing instead to stay in the cells below and having his court papers handed to him there.
Each time Dean has appeared he has worn a large wooden crucifix, prominently displayed over his prison greens.
- Sydney Morning Herald