Relief as nursing home killer jailed for life

Life without parole ... Roger Dean at the scene of the Quakers Hill nursing home fire.

Life without parole … Roger Dean at the scene of the Quakers Hill nursing home fire.

A MAN who murdered 11 elderly residents of a Sydney nursing home two years ago will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Sentencing Roger Dean to life imprisonment, Justice Megan Latham told the NSW Supreme Court today the pain and terror experienced by the victims must have been horrific. The “heinous, atrocious and greatly reprehensible” crime was planned and premeditated. She said the victims, who were immobile and asleep at the time the fires were lit, were “vulnerable”, of “high dependence” and were in the “care and control of the offender”.

Dean deliberately started two fires in the Quakers Hill Nursing Home on November 18, 2011, to “create a distraction” from his theft of 238 prescription painkillers from the home. Three of the victims died immediately. Eight who suffered burns or lung damage from smoke inhalation died in hospital in the weeks following the incident.

The former registered nurse, 37, originally pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of murder and eight of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, but changed his plea the day his trial was to start. The death toll makes Dean the worst mass murderer in the state’s history, ahead of Belanglo Forest killer Ivan Milat.

Dean appeared on national television immediately after the fire, describing his efforts to help those trapped in the blaze. “I just quickly did what I can [to] get everyone out … the smoke is just overwhelming. We got a lot of people out, so that’s the main thing,” he told media crews.

The relatives of the victims cried and cheered in the packed public gallery, which included a strong police presence, as the sentence was handed down. One woman collapsed and had to be carried out of the courtroom.

One relative shouted, “You’ll get yours” as Dean was led away. Another yelled, “Rot in hell!” Dean showed no emotion during sentencing.

Outside the court, Amanda Tucker, whose grandmother, Dorothy Sterling, 80, died in the fire, said a life sentence would never take the pain away from her family. “My nanna never made it out of that nursing home … [Dean] walked straight past her and didn’t help.”

Elly Valkay, who lost her mother, Neeltje, 90, said the outcome was wonderful. “I hope he suffers as much in jail as my mother suffered the last four days of her life, which was horrendous,” she told reporters. “Our loss is still there, will always be there, but to know that justice has been done … it’s wonderful to see and it’s wonderful to feel”.

Lorraine Osland, whose mother Lola Bennett died in the blaze, said life would never be the same. “It wouldn’t matter what they gave him … it will never, ever be any different for us. He got a life sentence and so did we,” she said.

Neale Becke, the son of 96-year-old Doris Becke, said the sentence had brought him closure. “If you have a mother go home and give her a cuddle. You only have one,” he said.

Last month the state government announced that all aged-care homes in NSW will install fire sprinkler systems by March 2016. An inquiry heard last year that the deaths at Quakers Hill could have been averted had the nursing home been fitted with sprinklers.

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