THE FAMILY of a woman who died after drinking cleaning fluid in a Wrexham care home broke into applause as magistrates sent the case to Crown Court for sentence.

Patricia Holt, a resident of Plas Rhosnesni Care Home, died on October 14, 2001, at the age of 72 following an incident at the home on October 8, when she found a jug containing caustic soda solution on a desk in one of the offices and drank some of it.

Wrexham Magistrates Court heard Mrs Holt received major burns to her lips, tongue and upper airways and a post-mortem examination found her death was due to broncho-pneumonia and ingestion of sodium hydroxide.

Prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, Sally Nicholson described the Elderly and Mentally Infirm (EMI) unit in the home where Mrs Holt had lived for three years and told the court she suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

She often wandered around the unit and was well-known for her habit of consuming other people's food and drink.

There was some confusion among witnesses but it seems a member of staff was asked to clear up some soup that had been spilt on a carpet and to use a pink liquid to do the job. A different pink liquid known as Optimum C, a heavy duty degreasing agent, was actually used and was left on the desk in an ordinary water jug.

The following morning Mrs Holt was seen to pick up the jug and it was taken from her.

Later, it was noticed that her lip was bleeding and staff realised she might have drunk the liquid, mistaking it for blackcurrant juice.

She was taken to hospital but by then her injuries were beyond treatment and she died six days later.

Investigations found staff were not aware of the risks attached to the use of Optimum C, which is corrosive to the eyes and skin and toxic if swallowed.

They did not wear gloves or aprons and did not know how it should be used and diluted.

The product was stored on an open shelf and left unattended.

The owners of Plas Rhosnesni, Hallmark Healthcare (Wrexham) Ltd, based in Billericay, Essex, admitted neglect of duty and pleaded guilty to the offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

In mitigation they claimed that when they took over the home in 2000 it was running at a loss and they have now spent time and resources improving it.

The magistrates decided the offence required a greater punishment than the £20,000 maximum fine they could impose and committed the case to Crown Court for sentence.

Speaking outside the court, Mrs Holt's sons Ian and Andrew, both from Trefor near Llangollen, expressed their satisfaction that the case was going to Crown Court.

Ian said: 'These people are not in it for anything but profit and I don't accept there is any excuse for such a tragic and horrible death. There was a breakdown of protocol and somebody must be accountable.'

Ian's wife Elaine said: 'Ian's mum lived in Plas Madoc and was sectioned to Gwenfro Ward in the Maelor Hospital in 1998.

'When she was released they told us she would have to go to a place of safety where she would be looked after, but they didn't look after her and they didn't keep her safe, did they?'

Andrew's wife Cathy said: 'We always thought the basic care was not good, the nursing and everything else. We tried to challenge them but got nowhere.'