How two men let their 71-year-old wife and mother die in her Whitehaven home

David Holyoak during police interviews.
David Holyoak during police interview.

"Tell me if you've neglected your mum," asked the officer.

"I have," replied David Holyoak.

Holyoak, 54, told police during interviews that he could have done more to save his mother Dorothy Morgan.

Both he and her husband, 61-year-old Robert Morgan, were convicted of manslaughter of their elderly relative last month.

Today, at Carlisle Crown Court, Morgan was jailed for three years, the judge saying: “Your negligence was gross and serious. You could have done so much more.”

His stepson Holyoak was jailed for two years eight months. The judge told him: “I am in no doubt that you did love your mother and did not want her to die. However, it is clear that you ignored the warning signs.”

Carlisle Crown Court had heard how Dorothy Morgan was found in a malnourished and dehydrated state - weighing just four-and-a-half stones - when she was admitted to the West Cumberland Hospital on 25 January 2021.

She died in hospital 10 days later.


Police interviews

"In hindsight, I probably could have done more, but hindsight is 20-20 vision isn't it?" Robert Morgan told officers during interrogation.

"Their accounts were that they didn't believe that Dorothy wanted medical intervention, I reject that entirely," said Detective Superintendent Matthew Scott.

"We've got clear medical history from Dorothy that when medical intervention was required, Dorothy wanted that medical intervention.

"We can see results of blood tests, etc, etc, in the past. My own view, and it's only my own view, is that they just saw it as a hindrance and either couldn't be bothered to get the care for her or just didn't care enough to get it."

It’s understood that after retiring Dorothy Morgan became increasingly isolated.

Her husband Robert Morgan told the court that she lost interest in gardening and charity work.


999 call

But a turning point came on 25 January 2021.

It was on this date that Robert Morgan made a 999 call.

He told paramedics he didn’t know her age or birthday.

"Tell me exactly what's happened," the emergency call handler asked Morgan.

"The wife has been refusing to get any kind of medical help for months," he responded.

"She stopped eating, she stopped drinking. She looks like something from a death camp.

"She can barely sit up now. And I can't go on with this. I'm not supporting behaviour like this anymore."


Paramedics were deployed to Dorothy Morgan's home in Whitehaven and she was taken to the West Cumberland Hospital in the town where she died 10 days later.

She had early-stage lung cancer, but her cause of death was severe emaciation and infection from neglected pressure ulcers.

After being found in this condition, the hospital alerted police.

It was described by a senior prosecutor as one of the worst cases of manslaughter by gross negligence they’ve ever seen.

The 71-year-old was also suffering from sepsis and hadn’t drunk anything in more than a week.


'Shocking'

"This isn't how anybody should should die, simple as that," said Detective Superintendent Matthew Scott.

"In pain, in suffering and alone essentially. But these cases holistically are always shocking.

"I've dealt with very few of these cases just because thankfully, they are rare. This is like the third case of this nature I've dealt with, so there is some reassurance from that, I guess.

"But cases like this are particularly distressing, especially when we're talking about the elderly in our communities.

"While Dorothy Morgan met an end full of pain and suffering, both men were described as completely failing to properly take care of her.

"And it was this failure that killed their wife and mother."


Domestic homicide review

A domestic homicide review is now being carried out to identify any lessons to be learnt and if anything could have been done differently to protect Dorothy Morgan.

This typically happens when an adult's death happens as a result of violence, abuse or neglect by a relative, partner or member of the same household.

This is not connected to the legal process, but it aims to prevent anything like this from happening again.