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R eggae music, food and gardening: these were Bernard Cherringtonâs great loves. He came from a farming family in Jamaica â they had a smallholding in the Blue Mountains, on the eastern side of the island. His love for growing things never left him. Throughout his life, Bernard could often be seen pottering about his garden, in the morning or late at night, in his bathrobe. âIt was his pride and joy,â says his daughter, Desiree, 52, a relationship manager. âHe liked big, bright flowers, roses and peonies, like a Jamaican garden. Youâd see him there, sometimes barbecuing in the sunshine, or sitting with a can of Red Stripe chilling on his bench under a tree on the drive.â
Bernard moved to the UK in 1960, settling in London before moving to Manchester. He married in 1968 and had Desiree and a son, Alwyn, before divorcing his wife, Hyacinth, in 1977. (Bernard had another son, Devan, in 2001.) Desiree and Alwyn stayed in the family house with their mother until her sudden death, from pneumonia, in 1978. âWhen Mum died, Dad came home and we muddled through,â says Desiree. âIt was strange, at first. We had just gotten settled. We were used to seeing my dad on weekends.âBernard with his granddaughter Hannah on Christmas Day in 2019.
Their house backed on to a railway line, so Bernard would climb over the garden fence and walk down the tracks to the depot. âDad worked just about every hour God sent,â says Desiree. âWe were poor, no doubt about it. But his view was that if there was food on the table and a roof over your head, things would be all right.â Bernard was a sociable person, who would often go to the pub with his friends after work. âWhen we were kids, I knew about 10 pubs I could find my dad at,â Desiree laughs. âHeâd either be there or in the bookies.â Even in later life, taking Bernard to the shops took ages, because he knew so many people and would stop and chat to them.
In 2012, Bernard was diagnosed with dementia. At a meeting with doctors, Bernard was characteristically mischievous. âThe doctor asked him if he ever saw things that werenât there,â says Desiree, âand he said that he did. Afterwards, I asked him about it and he tutted and said: âHow can you see things that arenât there? If theyâre going to chat such stupidness, why not mess about?ââ
Desiree fought to get her father into Nazareth House in Manchester in 2017 â the care home had an âoutstandingâ rating and she thought her father would receive the best possible care there. âIt had a really nice vibe,â she says. âIt was a place of laughter.â She would visit often, playing her father his beloved Bob Marley records to get him out of bed.Bernard on his wedding day in 1968.
On 11 March, Desiree attended a relativesâ meeting at the home. âThe staff had their coats on,â she says. âIt was 10 minutes before the end of the day.â Desiree says they appeared unconcerned about the Covid pandemic and spent most of their time planning fundraising and an Easter egg hunt. âI left that meeting thinking: âYou cannot even manage a relativesâ meeting, let alone a pandemic,ââ she says. Desiree felt that they were complacent about the risks of Covid, and her anxiety increased over the next few days. On 17 April, staff told her that Bernard was not feeling well and a GP had been called. It was the first she had heard of her dad being unwell â she believes he had been feeling poorly for days and says no one told her.
In a statement, Nazareth House said it âcannot agree with [Desireeâs] characterisation of the meeting [on 11 March] ... Our staff were not complacent about the risks of Covid-19. Contingency planning for Covid was, in fact, the first item on the agenda that day.â It added: âWhen her fatherâs condition began to deteriorate, she was informed as soon as possible. During this time, staff were monitoring his condition carefully.â
The following day, he was taken to North Manchester general hospital by ambulance. He tested positive for Covid. Doctors told Desiree there was nothing they could do; she was allowed to visit her father to say goodbye. She played Bob Marley music and called her brothers. âWhen I played him the music, he was squeezing my hand,â she says. âI knew he could hear me. But he couldnât talk.â
Bernard died on 20 April. Since his death, Desiree has been searching for answers about how her father contracted Covid, when he fell ill and why she was not informed sooner, with little success. âItâs been a massive fight,â she says. âIâve had to fight for everything. I think people write you off when youâre old and have a disability. Weâre all going to get old. Can we not look after people?â