BEXLEY Council has apologised "unreservedly" to the family of a lady who died after an emergency call was left unanswered for five hours.

Barbara Baker was 78 and living in sheltered housing in Sidcup when she pressed the button on the Bexley Emergency Link Line (BELL) around her neck at just after 1.05am on April 6 last year.

The call from Meadows Court in Haven Close went through to a single operator at the Civic Centre but he missed it, causing the computer system to log him out of 'call receiving mode' after three minutes.

It was not until just before 6am that the council employee logged back in again by which time Mrs Baker was dead after her call had been automatically repeated again and again to the same number without response.

A former telecoms engineer who used to install the systems for Bexley Council claims he warned bosses such an incident could happen back in 2007.

John Cousins says a single person should never have been left in charge of the system. He says CCTV staff who used to be on the same corridor as the BELL operators and would cover for them when needed were moved elsewhere in 2010.

The 54-year-old told News Shopper: "Why gamble on having one operator? To me it’s just reckless having one person working on a particular night.

"The weakest link should always be the customer not wearing their pendant, not the council having just one member of staff on because they can’t afford more.

"I was paranoid about the safety of the clients and I tried my best to update the system and bring it into the 21st Century."

Mr cousins, of Mount Road, Bexleyheath, says the operator was promising but was inexperienced and had not been trained to deal with the situation he was confronted with.

The operator was immediately sacked though a police investigation found insufficient evidence to charge him with any crime.

Mr Cousins was himself fired in July last year over an unrelated case of "gross misconduct", though he feels he was forced out by the council over the incident with Mrs Baker.

News Shopper:

Barbara Baker was living at Meadows Court in Sidcup when she died. 

Council response

A Bexley Council spokeswoman said: "Following a post-mortem examination, it was concluded Mrs Baker died of natural causes.

"The lack of response by BELL was not an attributable factor in Mrs Baker's death, and the case did not progress to an inquest.

"The BELL staff and managers were very upset this incident happened and the council has apologised unreservedly to Mrs Baker's sister for the distress it caused.

"Mr Cousins was not party to this incident and is speculating on a situation while not being in possession of the full facts.

"He did not alert managers, prior to the incident, that there could be a future issue. 

"The operator on duty that night, an agency worker, has not been employed by the council since.

"The agency worker had been given full training on the BELL system and had even been given extra, specific training on what to do should the system ever lock out. .

"Due to the low workload, the system was previously monitored overnight by one operator.

"Now, if there is ever a time when there cannot be two members of staff available, the calls for the entire shift are all set to go to a central monitoring service instead."

Did you know Barbara Baker or the BELL operator? E-mail, call 01689 885702 or tweet @NewsShopperTim