Two men jailed for manslaughter of wife and mother Dorothy Morgan

Left to right - Robert Christopher Morgan and David Holyoak.
Left to right - Robert Christopher Morgan and David Holyoak.

Two men whose “shocking and reprehensible” neglect killed their wife and mother who was left weighing just four-and-a-half stone have been jailed.

Dorothy Morgan, 71, was finally admitted to hospital, acutely unwell, on 25 January 2021. At that time, people across the UK were locked down at home for the third time as the Covid pandemic raged.

Paramedics called to Mrs Morgan’s Calder Avenue home in Whitehaven found her emaciated, severely malnourished and clinically dehydrated.

She died 10 days later from emaciation and neglected infected pressure sores.

At that time, the retired factory worker lived with her husband, Robert Christopher Morgan, 61, and 53-year-old David Alan Holyoak — her son by another man.

Morgan — known as Chris — and Holyoak denied manslaughter by gross negligence but were convicted following a jury trial.

The prosecution said they failed to provide her with adequate food and water; failed to ensure she was properly looked after in a safe and hygienic home; and failed to call for any medical help or other assistance.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that despite Mrs Morgan’s condition worsening, Morgan and Holyoak “stood by and allowed — watched — as she deteriorated”.

“From some point between 14 and 28 December 2020, onward, Mrs Morgan had been unable to take care of her own basic human needs,” said prosecutor Iain Simkin KC as the pair, of Calder Avenue, were sentenced on 25 March.

Mrs Morgan was also suffering from the onset of sepsis up to 48 hours prior to her hospitalisation.

Medical evidence

A geriatrician — an expert in providing medical care to the elderly — had given evidence to jurors. They had said, Mr Simkin told the court, “that it would have been extremely painful, acute pain, suffered by Mrs Morgan.”

Mr Simkin continued: “The evidence revealed, we suggest, that both defendants simply left the deceased unable to feed or hydrate herself and without any ability to take care of her own basic human needs.

"Such a course of conduct, we say, can readily be characterised as a blatant disregard and, given the extended period whereby the deceased was abandoned, it would have been obvious to them — blatant, we say — that there was a very high risk of death had she been left in the state that she was.”

Yet no help was summoned for Mrs Morgan until 25 January 2021, when her husband dialled first an on-call health operator and then 999, after finishing a lengthy night shift.

For several weeks she had been left lying, immobile, on a downstairs sofa.

“I’ve got a problem with the wife,” Morgan had initially told a call handler. “She looks like something from a death camp. She can’t go on like this.”

“I’m not supporting this behaviour any more,” he added. “It has gone too far.”

Both he and Holyoak claimed in evidence they were simply following Mrs Morgan’s explicit instructions that no help be sought.

'Depressed and malnourished'

Yet in a text message to a friend, in October 2020, son Holyoak said he thought his mother was “depressed and malnourished”.

“This sounds like you are watching a lady die,” the friend had responded.

When asked under cross-examination by Mr Simkin what provisions there had been to ensure Mrs Morgan was cared for, Holyoak replied: “I don’t remember any.” He conceded: “I should have done more.”

Morgan said he believed his mother wouldn’t have accepted help had it been offered sooner. She “intended to end her life”, he believed.

His barrister, Richard English, spoke of a tragic case, saying: “My client has lost his wife. My learned friend’s lay client (Holyoak) has lost his mother.”

He added of Morgan: “He has not got over the loss of his wife. He still grieves for her. He misses his wife every day.”

'Extremely unusual'

Robert Elias, for Holyoak, said: “It is an extremely unusual case where the people who mourn Dorothy Morgan are the same people who are in the dock.

“It was a difficult sentencing exercise of “omissions, not acts”, added the barrister. “Mr Holyoak has, by this lack of intervention, effectively ruined his life.”

Passing sentence, Judge Suzanne Goddard KC accepted Mrs Morgan had not seen a GP for several years, nor wanted to see a doctor and did not want to eat.

But she concluded neither man had spent any significant time with her, and that they sought help “only at the last minute”.

“Both of you must carry the heavy burden of knowing that your gross negligence led to Dorothy Morgan’s death,” said Judge Goddard.

Jailing Morgan for three years, the judge said: “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.”

Both men will serve half of their sentences on licence.

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.”