A nurse convicted of killing 11 elderly people after starting a fire in a nursing home has lost his bid to challenge his 11 life sentences. Roger Dean’s appeal was rejected by the High Court on Wednesday after being rejected initially in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal last December.
The 40-year-old registered nurse of 15 years pleaded guilty to murdering the patients at Quaker’s Hill nursing home in Sydney’s west in November, 2011.
He lit two fires after discovering police were investigating his theft of 200 prescription pills from the home.
He was the head nurse on the night of the blaze. Eleven residents aged between 73 and 90 died immediately and there were three further deaths due to injuries.
He received 11 life sentences in 2013.
His barrister Tim Game SC argued various grounds in the High Court, including criticising “the structure” of the sentence imposed.
But Kara Shead, for the crown, said after taking into account the evidence in this case – no matter what processes were involved – “no other conclusion could have been reached”.
The two judges, sitting in Sydney, refused to give him the go-ahead to appeal, concluding there would be no prospects that a challenge would be successful.
In the Court of Criminal Appeal on December, Dean argued that Supreme Court Justice Megan Latham was wrong in finding no sentence other than life in prison would properly reflect his moral culpability.
Such sentences were ‘manifestly excessive’, he argued, according to the report.
Dean’s state of mind when he lit the fire and ability to foresee what would happen as a result were key to his case.
Relatives of his victims were disgusted by the appeals.
Elly Valkay, daughter of Neeltje Valkay, who was in the nursing home at the time, said Dean ‘made it seem like it was nothing’.
She asked how he could not be culpable.
‘He knew that they were immobile because he was the registered nurse there. They died in their beds and that’s it,’ she said.
An inquest heard the nursing home had failed to check Dean’s work references and did not make him undergo a mental health check.
Among his work history was an incidence of being suspended from his previous job because he was frothing at the mouth on drugs.
An inquest into the deaths of 14 people after the 2011 fire also heard Roger Dean had previously vandalised a former boss’s car.
Among the patients residing in the home at the time of the fire were blind people, others confined to their beds and some with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the inquest was told.
The inquest heard Dean used a staff member’s cigarette lighter to set a sheet on a bed on fire in two rooms in the nursing home.
He later appeared on television describing his efforts to rescue trapped people in the nursing home.
After the fire, Dean told journalists he had braved the smoke to rescue those trapped inside as the home’s 88 residents were evacuated.
He said: ‘ I just quickly did what I could to get everyone out.’
Following the tragedy , NSW fire commissioner Greg Mullins described the blaze as ‘a firefighter’s worst nightmare’.
The fire was Sydney’s worst nursing home disaster since 16 elderly residents died in a blaze in suburban Sylvania Heights in 1981.