Dementia sufferer died 'like prisoner in his own home' after heartless son locked him in without a key

A pensioner with dementia was left to die ‘like a prisoner in his own home’ after his heartless son locked him in without a key.

Robert Wellburn Snr was found abandoned with insufficient food and medication after neighbours raised the alarm when they noticed flies in the window of his home in North Shields, Tyneside.

The Newcastle Chronicle reports Wellburn had promised to find his dad a care home but instead left him alone for three to four weeks.

The 72-year-old lying on the floor looking terrified in a pool of vomit and excrement. He had been there for so long he had pressure sores and was “extremely emaciated”.

There was no food in the house, which was very cold and Mr Wellburn was alive but extremely poorly, unable to move or communicate.

He was taken to hospital but sadly died of acute pneumonia a few weeks later.

Police later found Wellburn had been helping himself to his dad’s money using his debit card.

Now the 46-year-old, who admitted gross negligence manslaughter and appeared distressed and sat with his head bowed throughout the hearing, has been jailed for four years.

Judge Paul Sloan QC told him: “Mr Wellburn was in effect a prisoner in his own home.

“He had been completely dependant and had severe dementia.

“You knew he didn’t have enough food or medication to last three to four weeks.”

The court heard Mr Wellburn, who lived at Beaumont Street, North Shields, had been placed in a care home in 2014 but was discharged into the care of his son after Wellburn said he wished to look after him full time.

He initially moved in with Wellburn and his partner but was then returned to his own house.

Judge Sloan said: “It must have been obvious to you he should have been in a care home if not living with you.”

In July 2015 Wellburn informed North Tyneside adult services he felt unable to cope properly and help was offered but never taken up.

That same month, a neighbour called the police concerned for the pensioner’s welfare as he had been unable to get out of the house.

In August the authorities got another referral from a concerned neighbour and adult services advised he would be better off in a care home.

Wellburn, of Southmead Avenue, Newcastle, was provided with a list of potential homes for his dad to go into but never progressed matters.

Judge Sloan said: “One particular neighbour voiced concerns to the police on several occasions.

Neighbours found Mr Wellburn in Beaumont Street, North Shields

“Neighbours were aware you visited, often for short periods of time late at night and you locked the door behind you when you left.

“You sought to reassure neighbours, reassurances which had no foundation in fact.

“They remained concerned he was being left alone and locked inside his home.”

In September further concerns were raised about Mr Wellburn being locked in the house for long periods.

On September 19 neighbours again contacted police after they noticed a number of flies in the property.

When Wellburn was contacted, he lied, saying his dad was fit and well and staying with him.

He had told his partner and son his dad was in a care home.

Judge Sloan said: “Entry was forced to his house and he was found lying face down on the floor in a pool of vomit and faeces.

“He was still alive but immobile, unable to communicate and he looked terrified, was extremely emaciated and had pressure lesions and sores on his face and body.

“No food was in the house, the electricity didn’t work in all the rooms and it was extremely cold and no keys were discovered in the house.”

Mr Wellburn was taken to the RVI in Newcastle but his condition further deteriorated and he died on November 8 from acute pneumonia.

Wellburn was traced to woods in Wooler, Northumberland, where he had taken an overdose to try to kill himself.

When interviewed by police he said he had tried to care for his dad but had been unable to do so.

Judge Sloan said: “You said you had not been to visit him for three to four weeks and it all got too much for you and you simply stopped visiting.

“You were also drinking to excess in your attempts to cope.”

The court heard that between March 2014 and November 2015 Wellburn had also used his dad’s debit card to access his money for his own purposes, which he said he intended to pay back.

Referring to the aggravating factors of the case, Judge Sloan said: “He was particularly vulnerable and the neglect was persisted in for a significant period.

“You were well aware of his plight in those final few weeks yet did nothing and you failed to heed advise and repeated warnings from others.

“You lied to others who were not only in a position to help but offered to help and you lied to the police to cover up the fact you had abandoned your father.”

In a statement read to the court, Wellburn’s sister said she couldn’t understand why he had not contacted other family members if he was struggling to cope.

She said: “I don’t know how he sleeps at night knowing he left dad to fend for himself.

“My dad had dementia and would have been frightened, disorientated and left alone.

“It’s so sad my dad had to have this happen to him.

“It would have been so different had he just asked for help. If he had I’m sure my dad would still be alive today.”

Nicholas Lumley QC, defending, said: “What happened is inexcusable. This defendant simply could not cope with the tragedy unfolding before him.

“The defendant presents as a broken man. He has a lack of belief about the situation.

“He will have to live with it for the rest of his life.

“There is considerable remorse, there are no crocodile tears in this case.”

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