Care worker who left housebound woman, 43, to starve to death is jailed for three years

Tracey Burrows (in white, outside court this morning) was jailed for three years for leaving a stroke victim to starve to death

A community care worker who left a disabled woman to starve to death in her own home was today jailed for three years.

Tracey Burrows, 56, failed to check on stroke victim Julie Cleworth, 43, at her home in St Helens, Merseyside, for four days.

Ms Cleworth, described by the prosecution as ‘helpless as a baby’, was unable to move without assistance and needed to be fed through a tube. 

The victim fell into a coma by the second day and starved to death having been left without food, fluids and medication. 

While Ms Cleworth was fighting for her life at home, Burrows spent her time sitting in her car outside and visiting her own mother instead.

To cover her tracks, Burrows told her boss that she had looked through the victim’s home and found no one there. 

It was assumed by her boss that Ms Cleworth was back in hospital and the care package was cancelled. 

The mother-of-three denied gross neglect manslaughter but was convicted by a jury last month after just three hours deliberations. 

Burrows (outside Liverpool Crown Court today) failed to check on Julie Cleworth, 43, at her home in St Helens, Merseyside, for four days

Burrows (outside Liverpool Crown Court today) failed to check on Julie Cleworth, 43, at her home in St Helens, Merseyside, for four days

During the trial at Liverpool Crown Court, Burrows, who has four previous convictions for dishonesty, maintained it was not her fault that Ms Cleworth died.

Jailing her today Judge Neil Flewitt, QC, said that in a pre-sentence report she expressed remorse, shame and guilt about her actions.

‘I find those sentiments difficult to reconcile with your stance at trial and your assertion to the jury that you do not believe you bear any responsibility for Julie Cleworth’s death.’

He said that an expert told the court how Julie must have survived for a minimum of 24 to 48 hours and would have suffered various symptoms including pain and confusion before lapsing into a coma.

‘One can only imagine the terror which must have overcome Julie Cleworth as she lay helpless in bed, realising that she had been abandoned and left to starve to death.’  

During the nine-day trial the jury heard how it had been mistakenly believed that Ms Cleworth had been returned to hospital because ambulance staff found her electronic bed at home was faulty.

They told the hospital they would have to return her if the bed could not be fixed and the hospital contacted the care company, Unite Healthcare Ltd, to pass on that information.

But in the meantime a crew member had fixed it and they put her in bed to await Burrows’ visit as they did not have the equipment to place her in the lounge.

Burrows was asked to visit the victim on February 5, 2017, at 7pm.

But, despite failing to even get out of her car, she told her employers she had scoured every room and there was no sign of Ms Cleworth. 

Burrows claimed during her trial that she had checked in the living room of Ms Cleworth’s small bungalow as that was where Julie normally was.

Burrows outside court during her trial

She stood emotionless in the dock today

Burrow (pictured outside court during her trial) stood emotionless in the dock today as she was sentenced

She told the jury that she had gone into the darkened property and called out Ms Cleworth’s name, but got no reply. 

Judge Flewitt told heavily-tanned Burrows: ‘There are many thousands of people throughout the country who rely on care workers to satisfy their basic needs.

‘Every day those people and their families trust those care workers to carry out their duties with diligence and compassion.

‘Julie Cleworth was one of those people and on February 5, 2017 you neglected her in a way which the jury decided was truly exceptionally bad and which led to her death.

‘If I deal with this case in any way other than by the imposition of an immediate prison sentence I would be letting down Julie Cleworth and her family and I should be failing in my duty to protect the many thousands of other people in a similar situation.’

Julie’s mother, Hilary Kenny, attended each day of the trial and was again present today.  

After the hearing, Ms Kenny said: ‘I’m really glad that she will serve time but it will not bring my daughter back and I miss her.’

She said she felt nothing for Burrows but said: ‘She should not have left and gone to see her mother, she should not have left her alone.’ She added that she is planning to sue Unite Healthcare.

The court heard that Burrows has two previous convictions for theft, one for handling and her last one for benefit fraud after failing to reveal she was working for a care company.

Nigel Power, QC, pointed out that Burrows had an ‘exemplary’ record as a care worker and produced references on her behalf which described her as ‘utterly selfless. This conviction will have a devastating effect upon her.’

He said she has significant family difficulties and attendant mental health problems and is highly unlikely to re-offend. 

He said if she had gone into Ms Cleworth’s home she would have seen a note left by the ambulance crew and would have then found her in a bedroom. 

Deborah Gould, prosecuting, said Ms Cleworth was found dead on February 9 half out of her bed having struggled to get out.

A post mortem discovered that Julie, a mother-of-one, who had lived alone after her partner moved out, had developed ketoacidosis, a condition that sees toxins build up in the bloodstream as a result of starvation.