EXPERTS could find no evidence that a chicken sandwich caused the death of a vulnerable woman, an inquest heard.

Crook Coroners' Court heard from two Home Office pathologists at the inquest of Olivia Rosemary Keenan on Wednesday.

Ms Keenan, who had Down’s Syndrome and dementia, died in March 2016 at the Middleton Lodge Care Home, near Darlington.

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A criminal investigation was launched in the wake of her death, after it came to light that Ms Keenan had been given food – a chicken sandwich - that was not consistent with her care plan.

Ms Keenan was on a ‘soft food’ diet, with guidelines specifying that bread should be cut into 2cm pieces and soaked in sauce or gravy. Instead, the sandwich was cut into four pieces by the home’s deputy manager Shona Bairstow who thought the sandwich counted as soft food because it was slathered in butter.

The strict meal guidelines were recommended by Ms Keenan’s speech and language therapist who believed there was an increased risk of her choking on food due to issues arising from dementia and Down’s Syndrome.

Representing Ms Keenan’s family at the inquest, Paul Clark suggested there had been a “lack of compliance” from the home’s staff in relation to the guidance, despite the therapist delivering extra training sessions. The sessions were carried out prior to Ms Baistow’s employment but the inquest heard she had been given copies of Ms Keenan's care plan.

Mr Clark quizzed the pathologists on the likelihood of the sandwich “improperly prepared” by Ms Baistow contributing to Ms Keenan’s death.

Reports arising from post-mortem investigations by Dr Peter Cooper and Dr Mark Egan concluded that Ms Keenan had died after her airways became blocked by vomit.

Two post-mortems uncovered no evidence to suggest that the sandwich had caused her to vomit or that she had choked on it. It was suggested that a food blockage could have been removed by those attempting to resuscitate Ms Keenan but both pathologists said they had received no evidence to support that claim, with Dr Egan suggesting paramedics would ordinarily retain any blockage for investigation.

He said: “I do not think there was evidence at post-mortem to implicate the sandwich, however it was prepared, in the obstruction of the airways.”

Dr Egan added: “You are going a step too far to suggest that food that was prepared in that manner increased the risk of vomiting.”

Mr Clark said: “What I am trying to get the witness to accept is that his findings are based in what was found at post-mortem and do not take into account evidence from elsewhere in relation to risk.”

The inquest continues.