Research shows that we are more concerned about fox hunting and grouse shooting than suffering of the elderly
Few things are more likely to make you say “good” this week than the payback dished out to thieving social worker Karen Kersey-Smith.
The 49-year-old from Wrexham stole more than £90,000 from three vulnerable victims, the oldest being 92, and in June last year she was jailed for 28 months.
Now a proceeds of crime hearing has ruled that the leech must sell her house to repay her victims.
Like I say, good, but tragically I routinely come across stories like this of parasites who defraud the very people they are supposed to be looking after.
In one of the worst recent cases, Rhian Horsey stole £320,000 over six years from a woman who needed care after suffering a heart attack.
Cardiff crown court heard that the victim, now 100, told police: “She had access to everything, I trusted her with all my finances.”
In October, 55-year-old Horsey was found guilty of fraud and jailed for five years, Recorder Mark Cotter QC branding her a “viper” driven by greed.
Yasmin Pugh from Llannelli, Carmarthenshire, stole jewellery including wedding and engagement rings worth more than £15,000 from a blind woman in her care.
She had been hired by her best friend, the great-niece of the 102-year-old victim, after saying she was broke and needed work.
When sentenced at Swansea crown court last month Pugh, 31, got away with 16 months suspended.
Care assistant Amanda Clark was described as “a genuine friend” by the 87-year-old woman she was supposed to be caring for.
She siphoned £7,000 from the woman’s bank card, spending it at outlets including Next, Asda and Paddy Power.
The 33-year-old admitted fraud by abuse of position and got off with a 10-month suspended jail sentence when up before Liverpool crown court in September.
The same court also heard the case of Shannon Stafford, who stole £22,000 from two women in their 90s, spending much of the money on clothes she modelled on YouTube.
Recorder Ian Unsworth told how the 23-year-old who worked for a Merseyside care charity, “bled her victims dry”, and sentenced her to two years inside.
It would be useful to know exactly how widespread cases like this are but the area is a statistical black hole.
The Crown Prosecution Service could not give me any figures on the number of victims who are defrauded by their carers, nor could the Court of Protection or Office of the Public Guardian, and the annual England and Wales Crime Survey does not survey those over 74.
This blindspot seems to reflect priorities in society as a whole.
Research published this month by the charity Hourglass, formerly called Action on Elder Abuse, found that fox hunting was mentioned nearly 20 times as much as the abuse of older people on Twitter.
Even the niche animal welfare issue of grouse shooting got four times as many tweets.
A glimpse into the scale of the problem comes in an Hourglass survey revealing that 14% of 45 to 70-year-olds said they knew of an older person who has been abused financially in the past year by someone they trusted.
In 2020 its helpline received roughly three calls a day, with total reports coming to more than £13million stolen, defrauded, or coerced from older victims.
That’s in addition to reports of 17 houses being sold or taken without consent and another 37 being given away under pressure, coming to another £13million.
The charity’s helpline worker Isobel Irwin is often on the receiving end of those calls.
“They can vary from a one-off incident of petty theft up to hundreds of thousands of pounds being stolen over a period of time,” she said.
“We also see incidents of elderly relatives being pressured into selling their home to their adult children for under market value and losing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds,
or they are signing over the deeds for nothing and being threatened with being thrown out if they do not comply.”
She said the reports they receive will inevitably be the tip of the iceberg, with many older people being too scared to talk.
“If the victim is aware of what’s going on and it’s a family member they may be afraid of speaking out because of threats of retribution,” she said.
“The threats might be, ‘If you tell anyone we’ll put you into a care home’, that’s a common line we hear.”
While there’s lots of anecdotal evidence like this there’s little by way of hard statistics.
“With elder abuse there is an extreme lack of any kind of prevalence study,” said Isobel.
“Compared to other sectors such as domestic violence or child abuse you do not see the same level of public or government engagement.”
Richard Robinson, chief executive of Hourglass, said: “We can’t change a problem we don’t see. Police forces in England need to work to improve recording of age when crimes are disclosed and investigate where older people are experiencing poorer outcomes.”