Services Coordinator's blog: Brian Rapley

[names have been changed]

When Margaret told me this when I first met her it was my first inkling that things were not right.  The Tully (or Tilly), is the nickname of one of Dundee’s local papers (Daily Telegraph) and, at that time, I knew, cost about 40p. Her son-in-law, Derek, who very “kindly” looked after her finances and did all her shopping, told her that the cost of living has increased substantially and that was why she never got any change from him. In fact, he said, he usually had to add his money to the housekeeping money that she gave him for the few groceries that he bought for her !  Margaret never failed to sing Derek’s praises and was so keen to tell people what a kind and generous man he was, although she admitted that sometimes he was too busy to visit her and it would be a couple of weeks before she got her shopping. She used to joke about how good she had become in making a loaf of bread last!

Margaret had poor mobility and rarely left her house, but was a very independent woman. She was very proud of that fact that she and her husband (who had died back in the late 1980’s) had saved hard to buy their own home. Her house was in desperate need of repair and was always cold, even in the summer. I once put the light on in the hall to help her find her way to the kitchen and she snapped at me to switch it off again as Derek, would keep reminding her about the high cost of electricity.  Although the house was always tidy and spotless, the furniture dated back to the 1980’s and the drafty windows, kitchen and bathroom all desperately needed replacement.  She was also in so much arrears with her council tax that the council were on the verge of appointing debt collectors.

Another example of the lies that Derek told her was when he said that the reason that the council no longer came to cut the grass in her garden (in spite of her giving him £20 each week to give to them for the service) was because all the council garden maintenance staff had been “payed off”. I knew that this was untrue but as her support worker, trying to maintain her trust, I was in a difficult situation, She doted on Derek and believed everything he said. I had to bite my tongue as I did not want to appear disloyal.

Unfortunately, Margaret then had a fall at home and, with help from her neighbours, was admitted to hospital. This was when the lies that she had been told by her son-in-law came to light. One of the most shocking revelations was that Margaret had signed an agreement on an Equity Release scheme on her house. Margaret had no recollection of doing or understanding the consequences of this.  When asked about what had happened to the money released, Derek said that it had had to be spent on home improvements. It also transpired that with her late husband’s substantial pensions and her own welfare entitlement she should have been living a very comfortable life.

At first Margaret did not want to believe the emerging facts about Derek but when he didn’t visit her in hospital and it became clear that there were no funds available for her to even buy the 40p Tully, she had to accept that she had been duped. She was in hospital for a number of months and during this time she never heard from Derek or, more importantly her daughter. They had apparently previously been so close.

This (true, although names and identifying details have been changed) story asks more questions than it answers, but in particular, why was Margaret so taken in by her son-in-law ?

My time supporting Margaret showed me not only the unbelievable and cruel extent of abuse of some older people, but how much of a challenge it is for support workers to penetrate the seemingly impermeable layer of trust that exists within families; even when faced with, what seems to the outside, obvious deceit.    

Action on Elder Abuse Scotland understands about family loyalty.  We will take the time to listen and we understand the reasons why people don’t always want to believe or report abuse. We will then help people to take the next or first steps towards reporting it and seeking support.            

Our confidential Scottish Helpline (Freephone: 080 8808 8141) is available 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday.