A WHITEHAVEN husband and his stepson have been jailed for "gross negligence" manslaughter after failing to help a woman who was "starving to death" in front of them.

Former Kangol factory worker Dorothy Morgan, 71, weighed just four-and-a-half-stone when she was admitted to hospital in January 2021, severely malnourished, dehydrated, and suffering from infected bedsores.

She died nine days later.

At Carlisle Crown Court, a jury convicted both men after hearing about the squalid circumstances that led to Mrs Morgan's death when she spent three weeks living on a settee at the Calder Avenue home in Whitehaven she shared with her husband Robert Christopher Morgan, 61, and David Holyoak, 53, her son by another man.

Police and ambulance staff who were summoned to the house found it "dirty, cluttered, and unkempt," the court heard.

Both men had denied gross negligence manslaughter, saying that they failed to seek help sooner than they did because Mrs Morgan refused to see a GP and had a long-standing fear of going into Whitehaven's West Cumberland Hospital.

Prosecutor Iain Simkin KC told Carlisle Crown Court: "The defendants simply left the deceased unable to feed or hydrate herself, and without any ability to care for her human needs."

He spelled out the defendants' multiple failings - ultimately accepted by the jury - which the prosecution said made Morgan and Holyoak guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.

Their criminal negligence included failures to:

  • Provide Mrs Morgan with adequate food, leaving her malnourished.
  • Provide adequate hydration, leaving her dehydrated.
  • Provide a hygienic environment in which to live.
  • Provide adequate bodily cleaning, leaving her clothes covered in urine and faeces.
  • Ensure that Mrs Morgan remained mobile.
  • And a failure to ensure her health and medical needs were met.

Mrs Morgan was unable to toilet herself for four to six weeks before her death and in her final weeks her toilet was a bucket next to the settee where she lay. Between December 14 and 28, 2020, she was too unwell to care for her own basic physical needs.

When finally admitted to hospital, she had been suffering from sepsis for 24 to 48 hours, an infection linked to pressure sores so deep that bone was exposed. The pensioner must have been in "acute pain," said the prosecutor.

He added: "It would have been obvious to them that there was a very high risk of death had she been left in that state."

Richard English, for Morgan, who was working as an NHS hospital security guard at the time when his wife became ill, said: "This is a very sad case; it is also an unusual case." The victim's family were not in the public gallery but in the dock.

"It makes this an unusual case and underscores the tragedy of it. The defendant [Holyoak] lost his wife and [David Holyoak] has lost his mother.

"When she [Mrs Morgan] was noticeably and profoundly unwell, Mr Morgan and Mr Holyoak took action. There was a climate within the house, a culture, where what Mrs Morgan said went and that clearly influenced the decisions taken."

Responding to that point, Judge Suzanne Goddard said she accepted that Mrs Morgan did not want to see a GP or go into hospital but there had been many steps between that and what ultimately happened to her.

The defendants could have provided a hygienic environment, clean sheets, clean clothing, and made her comfortable, preventing the bed sores she developed. "They could have called Social Services and asked for help," said the judge.

Mr English said Morgan accepted he should have done more but he was not certain that his wife would have accepted any help.

He said the defendant lacked "emotional and situational awareness," which meant he may not have noticed small changes in his wife's condition which would have been obvious to other people. 

At the time of his wife's deterioration, Morgan was working 13 or 14 hour shifts, and travelling four hours per day to and from his hospital workplace in south Cumbria during the pandemic.

This left little time for anything other than eating and sleeping, said Mr English. "Things simply got on top of him," said the barrister. Mr English suggested that Mrs Morgan had to a degree "masked her symptoms."

The judge pointed out that the jury had decided that Morgan not not faced the reality that his wife was "dying in front of him."

Mr English continued: "There is nothing he can do or say to change that and he accepts responsibility and deeply regrets that the decisions taken were taken. There is nothing about this man that indicates he is a cruel of neglectful person."

The barrister said Morgan was still grieving for the loss of his wife, adding: "This is a man who made wrong decisions... he misses his wife."

Robert Elias, for Holyoak, told the court; "There can be no doubt that my client loved his mother. The crown conceded that in cross examination and it is common ground that he cared about her.

"His failing was in lacking to care for her."

The barrister said Mrs Morgan had been such a dominant feature of Holyoak's life that he would not contradict her. Mr Elias suggested that Mrs  Morgan may not have realised the ultimate consequences of taking to her bed and she would have been mortified by the trouble this had caused her loved ones. 

He said Holyoak had lived a life of routine and work, escaping from reality by reading fiction, something he had done during breaks in the trial.

Since the case was reported publicly, his windows had been smashed and comments were made to his partner, which she had found difficult to deal with.

Mr Elias described Holyoak as "vulnerable," adding: "He's effectively ruined his life; and found it very difficult to cope emotionally with what he did. What we have here is a decent man, who slipped into inadvertence, weakness by deferring to his mother, serious mistakes of omission, non-acts."

Judge Goddard told the defendants that when Dorothy Morgan was admitted to hospital on January 25 2021, following Morgan's 999 call, she was near death, and unable to communicate.

The recording of that call featured Morgan telling the call-handler that his wife looked like somebody "from a death camp."

The direct cause of her death nine days later was emaciation and the neglect of Mrs Morgan's infected bed sores. The defendants had failed to care for her basic human needs.

"Both of you bear a heavy burden, knowing that your gross negligence led to Dorothy Morgan's death," said the judge.

Their conduct became criminal three weeks before Mrs Morgan was admitted to hospital, said Judge Goddard, when they they should have taken direct action to help the pensioner, contacting a GP or social services.

"Neither of you fully appreciated just how close to death she was until it was too late," continued the judge, concluding that the defendants were giving Mrs Morgan too little attention or the state she was in.


Addressing Robert Christopher Morgan, Judge Goddard said: "Character references speak of a better side of your nature. But, as you said to the medical services, you know very well that your wife was malnourished.

"You said: 'I have a problem with my wife; she's literally tried to starve herself to death over the last couple of months'. The shame of this conviction as well as the loss of your wife is something you will have to deal with for the foreseeable future...

"Your negligence was gross and serious; you could have done so much more. I accept you are not a cruel person."

She jailed Morgan for three years.

Turning to David Holyoak, the judge noted background reports that confirmed his low self-esteem and lack of confidence and how he is "non-assertive." She accepted that he is a vulnerable man, who had a troubled upbringing.

"You have expressed genuine remorse for not seeking help for your mother, and I have no doubt that you loved your mother and did not want her to die," said the judge.

But she pointed to a text message sent to Holyoak by a friend, who told him: "Sounds like you are watching this lady die; you are living next to a dying woman, a soon gone woman."

Describing Holyoak as intelligent, the judge added: "You could have done so much more for her than you did by providing Complan drinks and substitute meals."

She jailed Holyoak for two years and eight months. Neither defendant had any previous convictions.

CPS and police reaction

After the hearing, Gail O’Brien, Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West complex casework unit, said:” This is one of the worst cases of manslaughter by gross negligence I have seen.

"Both men let Mrs Morgan suffer and did nothing to help her, until it was too late.

“Richard Morgan and David Holyoak will now have time in prison to consider their inactions and the death of their family member to whom they had a duty of care.

“My thoughts are very much with Dorothy Morgan’s loved ones.”

Detective Superintendent Matt Scott, who led the investigation, said: “Robert and David had a clear duty of care towards Dorothy, and it was clear from her condition and the state of their home that the level of care afforded to Dorothy was woefully short of the most basic standards expected.

“She was wholly dependent on those family members closest to her for food, water and the most basic of care. Dorothy had limited mobility and was not able to move from the sofa. She was left with a bucket next to the sofa as a toilet, which Dorothy was unable to use in the days leading up to her admission to hospital.

“In interview they both said there were no excuses for the condition in which Dorothy was left, and that what little care they did provide was not enough.

“Despite claims of wanting to respect Dorothy’s wishes of not getting medical help they ignored the severity of her condition which ultimately led to her death.

‘’I welcome the verdict and today’s sentences and want to be clear, if you have taken on a duty to protect and care for a person who is elderly, vulnerable and in need of support, then ensure you fulfil the duty you have accepted.

“The elderly in our community deserve respect and support. Abuse and gross neglect such as this case shows, will not go unchecked.’’