You may recall the fire that broke out at St Michael’s Hospice almost 3 years ago. A resident of the hospice, who was terminally ill, soaked his bedding with an accelerant and set it on fire. Rodney Smith was charged on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. After 3 deaths, 2 of which were caused by smoke inhalation, Smith was subsequently charged with 2 counts of murder but died in the hospital wing of Lewes Prison 3 months later.

One elderly woman died shortly after the fire, but they could not say for certain that her death was caused by the fire. Ten patients, in total, were taken to hospital for observation where 2 subsequently died from smoke inhalation. These deaths led to the further charges of murder for Rodney Smith.

Many wondered if the hospice would be help accountable for any part of the fire and deaths. Was there a good plan in place in case of fire? Did they have enough staff to handle an evacuation? Many questions remained and they needed to be answered. Well, 13 indictments were handed down but the details are not available. What is refreshing is that St Michael’s Hospice has admitted to 2 breaches of fire safety laws. They have pleaded not guilty to 11 other indictments and we’ll have to wait to hear the outcome from those.

In a statement following the hearing Irene Dibben, chair of the hospice and Karen Clarke, chief executive, said they remained “truly sorry for the pain and anguish caused by the arson attack and resulting fire”. “The hospice could not have foreseen that a seriously ill patient would set fire to his own bed using an accelerant,” they said. “Nonetheless we know – and apologise – for the huge and ongoing impact it has had on our patients and their families.”

They said that prior to the fire there was a health and safety plan in place. “In re-building the hospice after the fire, we have ensured that it is one of the safest in England and Wales,” they added.

It’s too bad they didn’t ensure that St Michael’s Hospice was ‘one of the safest in England and Wales’ before this fire. How unfortunate for the frail patients who had to be evacuated, for the victims who died due the fire and their families, and to the staff who were traumatized that day. A better plan, a safer work environment, could have led to a much better outcome or, perhaps, avoided this tragedy from the beginning.