BEDFORD, ENGLAND — A care assistant at a nursing home set fire to an elderly resident's bed and burnt her to death because he was fed up with her incontinence, a court has been told.

Matthew Tesseyman, 21, denies murdering 83-year-old Edith Watson at the Crescent Nursing Home in Bedford on 13 May 2001.

The 84-year-old victim was unable to move or communicate and was totally dependent on the staff.

Joan Butler, prosecuting, told the jury on the first day of the trial at Luton Crown Court that Mr. Tesseyman set fire to Miss Watson's bed and nightdress as she slept.

She died in the hospital three days later.

The prosecution alleges that Mr. Tesseyman, of Eaton Socon in Cambridgeshire, confessed to the murder while on remand at Bedford prison.

Synthetic nightdress
Mr. Tesseyman confessed to a fellow prisoner, who was serving a two-year sentence for dishonesty, Ms. Butler told the jury.
[In law, the English term "dishonesty" is equivalent to the American term "fraud".]

A post mortem examination carried out by a Home Office pathologist showed that it would have been impossible for Miss Watson to have started the fire herself due to her poor health.

"He set light to her bed while she was asleep ... at the very least [he] intended to do her very serious harm."

The court was told that Miss Watson, who died one day before her 84th birthday, was unable to move, unable to communicate and totally dependent on the care of the nursing home staff.

She had been a resident of the home since March 1997 and lived in a first-floor bedroom at the Apex Care Homes property.

On the night of the fire she had been put to bed wearing a synthetic nightdress and with just a sheet covering her.

Mr. Tesseyman and two other staff members were on duty that night looking after the 23 residents.

Ms. Butler said: "He set light to her bed while she was asleep. The prosecution say that at the very least this defendant intended to do her very serious harm."

Mr. Tesseyman used a match to start the fire before joining his colleagues on the ground level of the care home, she said.

Locked cupboard
He told police in interviews following his arrest that he had left a matchbox in the kitchen of the care home, but repeatedly denied any involvement in starting the fire.

He said that on hearing the fire alarm he had rushed upstairs to discover a fire in Miss Watson's room.

He said he put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

Mr. Tesseyman told detectives that although lighters and matches in the care home were supposed to be locked in a secure cupboard, to ensure residents' safety, he had left the matchbox in the kitchen to have a cigarette later in the evening.

Ms. Butler said Mr. Tesseyman could offer no explanation as to why the same matchbox was later found in Miss Watson's room.

Fire investigators had discounted the theory that the fire could have been caused by a cigarette and said the flames could only have been started with a naked light, she said.