SUPERMARKET worker David Holyoak spent hours reading detective novels during the frequent breaks from his trial at Carlisle Crown Court.

Sitting on seat beside a window in the corridor, 53-year-old Holyoak seemed engrossed in his books, desperate to escape into fictional crime, a world away from the grim reality of the events unfolding within Court Number 1 a few yards away.

Along with his 61-year-old stepfather Robert Christopher Morgan, Holyoak had denied the gross negligence manslaughter of his 71-year-old mother Dorothy Morgan.

Their joint failure to act or get help as she “wasted away” in front of them led directly to her death on February 3, 2021, said the prosecution.

A former Kangol factory worker, and charity volunteer, Dorothy endured agony in her final weeks, emaciated, dehydrated, and tormented by severe bed sores. She was living on a settee in the living room of the family’s Calder Avenue home.

Covered in her own filth, her only toilet was a bucket on the floor.

The turning point came on January 25, 2021, when her husband - known to all as Christopher Morgan - finally accepted his wife needed urgent medical attention and picked up his phone to dial 999.

In that call, Morgan inadvertently gave the prosecution vital evidence, proving that he had known the jeopardy his wife faced for months - and yet only at this point, with Dorothy beyond help, did he contact medical professionals.

He told the call-handler: “She’s literally tried to starve herself to death over the last couple of months. She hasn’t allowed me to get in touch with any help, professionally… She looks like something from a death camp. She can’t go on like this.

“She’s not going to see the week out.”

By the time she was admitted to The West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, Dorothy was gravely ill, with bed sores so deep the bone was exposed. Her clothes were covered in urine and faeces. She had developed sepsis.

Most shocking of all, she weighed just four-and-a-half stone.

During the trial, Home Office pathologist Alison Armour said Dorothy’s "hollowed out" features made it obvious she was severely emaciated. Throughout the trial, Holyoak and Morgan said they refrained from seeking help because it was what Dorothy wanted.

She was determined to not see her GP, and terrified of going into West Cumberland Hospital, they told detectives.

Yet the evidence showed that both men knew Dorothy – who spent three weeks sleeping on a settee – was in obvious danger. In one text conversation, a friend told Holyoak: “I’m going to say this…sounds like you are watching a lady die.

“You’re living next to a dying woman … your mother.”

So how did the husband and son explain their inaction, despite being confronted on a daily basis by a woman who was clearly starving to death?

Holyoak said he spent much of his time in his bedroom, though he had provided his mother with Complan when she no longer wanted food. Morgan spoke of working 14-hour shifts at a hospital in south Cumbria during the pandemic.

“Things got on top of me,” he said. Neither man had any criminal history, and both were keen readers, with an estimated 1,000 plus books stored in their home.

News and Star: Robert Morgan (left) and David Holyoak (right)

Passing sentence, Judge Suzanne Goddard accepted Morgan was not a cruel man, and that Holyoak loved his mother and did not want her dead. But she also spelled out the brutal reality of their negligence - negligence that killed Dorothy Morgan.

“Any reasonable person applying their mind to her situation, as the jury found, would have realised the situation was getting critical in those last few weeks," she said.

“The unpalatable truth is that neither of the defendants was spending any significant amount of time with Mrs Morgan other than enquiring if she wanted anything, and leaving water and Complan for her, with little idea of how much hydration she was getting.”

She told Morgan: “Mr English [his barrister] submits that your long working hours had worn you down; and that your desire not to go against the wishes of your wife and her masking the situation played a part in you not taking action when you acknowledge now that you should have done.

“That may be so.

“But your negligence was gross and serious and should have, and could have done so much…

"I accept that your wife expressed a wish not to see a doctor or go to hospital but … there was no reason to think that she would have refused better care in the home, and the provision of a proper bed, nutrition and monitoring of her hydration levels and turning in bed to avoid infected pressure sores.”

It was those sores and the severe emaciation that killed Dorothy Morgan. She jailed Robert Christopher Morgan for three years.

The judge told Holyoak: “It's clear you ignored the warning signs and felt unable to act… you are an intelligent man, and you could and should have done much more for her than you did.”

She jailed Holyoak for two years and eight months.

Morgan thanked the judge as he left the dock. Holyoak, however, looked stunned, appearing close to tears as he was led away, having found himself at the centre of a real life crime story with a tragic ending.

An ending in which both he and his stepfather are now convicted killers. After the case, Detective Superintendent Matt Scott said: “These are unusual cases.

“I’ve spent 20 years as a detective, and this is only third like this I’ve dealt with. It’s reassuring, in a way that this kind of case is particularly unusual. We know that the people of Cumbria are good people and in most situations they look after the elderly and loved ones.

News and Star: Detective Superintendent Matt ScottDetective Superintendent Matt Scott (Image: Newsquest)

“However, this investigation was challenging.

“Immediately, we identified the victim and the suspects, but gross negligence manslaughter is a very high bar in terms of the law, legislation, and the hoops to go through to achieve conviction. There are a lot of stages to prove; for example, you have to prove that the person had bona fide duty of care.

“You need to prove the omission is gross in its nature.

“And medical evidence is often open to interpretation and so we have to carefully assess what experts, doctors, and pathologists  are telling us.

“Cases involving children, the elderly, and the vulnerable are particularly upsetting and infuriating. While some of the elderly in our community are very robust, they can people with vulnerabilities; and Dorothy Morgan was particularly vulnerable.

“She was vulnerable because of her condition, and her mental health.

"Because of these things, cases like this are emotion-provoking. But as professionals, we’re paid to step back and take a clear clinical view of the case, assess the evidence on its merits, and deal with the case as we should.

“You can’t take the emotion out of a case like this but ultimately the best reward for the police is to achieve a conviction.”

So, what message does this case send to the public?

Matt said: “This case is not about prosecuting people who are doing their best to care for loved ones and the vulnerable, the 99.9 per cent of people who do their very best to care for somebody, often in difficult circumstances.

“It’s about two people who accepted a duty and a responsibility towards a vulnerable person and then grossly and woefully neglected that person, causing her death.

“They took no steps to address the horrendous circumstances in which Dorothy died. The message is if you accept a duty of care then do the duty you’ve accepted. They didn’t really grasp the severity of the situation they were in.

“You’ll have heard on the 999 calls that they were nonchalant at best in terms of Dorothy. I certainly saw no evidence of love, compassion, or anything along those lines. My own view is that they saw Dorothy as a hindrance.”

Police found no photo of Dorothy Morgan at the family's “dirty, unkempt” home. “We know very little about her,” continued the detective.

“She worked all her life and was a good woman, doing voluntary work with church.

"We haven’t even got a photograph of Dorothy - and that kind of shows the level of dysfunction in this family. But I don’t want her to be remembered as the woman who died in horrendous circumstances.

“I’d rather she was remembered as the person she was.”

“If you do have concerns about an elderly person, somebody who have regularly seen and you stop seeing them, or you see a decline in their health, and you are concerned, then pick up the phone to adult social care, the NHS, or, if you’re really concerned, the police.”

Morgan and Holyoak had both denied gross negligence manslaughter but both were convicted after a four week trial at Carlisle Crown Court. 

Read more: Dorothy Morgan tragedy is 'the tip of an iceberg of elderly abuse'