Romford: Rosslyn Wolff ‘failed’ by NELFT before fire death

6:50 PM August 16, 2022

A Romford woman was left living in squalor after a series of “individual failings” in her care, a court has heard.

Rosslyn Wolff’s living conditions were so bad that her dog was removed by the police, her son Gary Parkin told a coroner – yet the authorities allowed his mother to remain in the same conditions.

He alleges his mother was treated as having the capacity to refuse state support – even after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

An investigation by the North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) has since found she may not have had capacity.

“She never, ever, ever tested for capacity,” Mr Parkin told the East London Coroner’s Court in Barking on Tuesday, August 16.

Mrs Wolff, 74, died in a fire at her home in Myrtle Road on January 11.

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has attributed the blaze to “a discarded but still burning cigarette falling onto inflammable material”.

The court heard Mrs Wolff had died surrounded by cigarette butts.

Mr Parkin wants an inquest to consider whether his mother’s treatment contravened Article Two of the Human Rights Act, requiring the state to safeguard the lives of vulnerable individuals.


Mr Parkin told the court Mrs Wolff’s relatives had raised concerns for years over her living conditions and her mental capacity.

This, he alleged, included sending photographs of her property to Havering Council chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert.

A photograph of the cluttered conditions inside Mrs Wolff’s home prior to the fire

– Credit: Gary Parkin

He said in court that NELFT and Havering Council had continued to treat his mother as having capacity even after visiting her home, which he says was in a condition that should have made clear she did not have capacity.

“The house had dog faeces in the upstairs,” he said. “Urine everywhere. There’s rats and mice droppings everywhere through bags of rubbish that have been there for several months. My mum was living on a sofa.”

Mr Parkin said pest control services had been called out more than once to deal with flea infestations.

He said a contractor who worked on his mother’s home had also contacted the council with concerns after seeing Mrs Wolff “naked, dirty, unkempt”, staring out of a window.

Fire damage inside Rosslyn Wolff's home in Myrtle Road, Romford

Fire damage inside Mrs Wolff’s home

– Credit: Gary Parkin


Giedrius Gencas, NELFT’s head of legal services, told the court that an internal investigation had uncovered failings.

“Our view is that there have been a number of shortcomings in care, which have been acknowledged within the serious incident investigation report,” he said.

“However, most of those shortcomings in care could be assigned to individual failings by individual clinicians, and we don’t consider that Article Two would be engaged in this particular case on that reason.”

Inquests can only consider Article Two if there appears to be a systemic problem, as opposed to individual failings.

Mr Gencas did not detail the failings, other than to say: “The serious incident investigation report does acknowledge that Rosslyn did not have a formal capacity assessment relating to self-neglect and hoarding.

“It is unclear whether Rosslyn had full understanding of the risks posed by her living conditions.”

Mr Parkin, who has seen the report, alleges it identified multiple “missed opportunities” which could have prevented his mother’s death.

Gary Parkin outside East London Coroner's Court, Barking Adult College

Gary Parkin said his mother, Rosslyn Wolff, was left in squalor because she was deemed to have mental capacity, when in fact she was never given a capacity test

– Credit: Charles Thomson


Jack Murphy, a lawyer for Havering Council, said Article Two was “clearly not engaged”.

He said the law requires a person “must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that they lack capacity”.

In the absence of a capacity test, he said it was right for Havering Council to treat Mrs Wolff as having capacity.

“You have submissions on behalf of NELFT that these are individual failings,” he said. “They are in fact mere negligence.

“As it stands, you are dealing with a case, as far as anyone else is concerned, of an accidental fire in a domestic premises.

“How is it said that any state body was aware, or should have been aware, of a real or immediate risk of an accidental fire in a domestic premises?”

Fire damage inside Rosslyn Wolff's Myrtle Road home

A photograph of the fire damage inside Rosslyn Wolff’s home in Myrtle Road, Romford

– Credit: Gary Parkin

Coroner Ian Wade QC replied: “Your point about the nature of the fire is accurate. It is very well-taken.

“But I have to bear in mind that Mr Parkin’s concern is that it may be that his mother was left vulnerable or at risk because of the implications of her medical and mental health history.”

He ordered Mr Parkin, NELFT and Havering Council to submit written arguments about Article Two within 14 days.

He set a provisional inquest date of October 26.

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