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First impressions last

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You know when you feel something isn’t quite right but you can’t put your finger on it?

Support worker, Donna had to trust her instincts and persevere over the course of a year to get justice for a customer with learning disabilities. Those gut feelings and tenacity eventually led to the arrest of the customer’s son who was found to be using her benefit money for his own purposes, leaving her bills unpaid and with no food.

Donna tells the story:

I was a new support worker when I took on the support role for Vicky whose son Paul was her primary carer after she had been widowed a couple of years before. The first time I met her, I wasn’t sure what to make of her as she didn’t talk a lot and Paul was always there to speak on her behalf.

In the following months, every time I tried to arrange an appointment to visit, Paul would put me off with one reason or another. However he was always pleasant to me so I didn’t know if this was done in a malicious way or if he was finding it hard to cope. 

I was able to get a second opinion on him when a local support team contacted me about trying to help Paul and his partner into work. I realised then that it wasn’t in my head as he didn’t want to work and was making excuses.

During a following visit, Vicky said she hadn’t eaten and Paul hadn’t given her any money. I discussed meals on wheels with him and suggested social services might be able to give extra support to take the pressure off him but he wasn’t keen. I spoke to my manager as I knew something wasn’t quite right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. She advised me to call back and ask him to provide some financial information.

Having left a voice message that went unreturned, the next time I saw Paul he said he hadn’t received the message. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and he agreed to meals on wheels three days a week increasing to five days a week and promised to get paperwork and bills for me to help him budget during my next visit.

The paperwork didn’t materialise though. I was constantly fobbed off. He would give a variety of excuses saying things like he’d run out of the house in a hurry or had forgotten.

Then I found out that Paul had arranged for meals on wheels to be dropped back to three days a week – he said they were too expensive and he couldn’t afford the service.

It was around this time that I noticed Vicky had lost weight – it was quite dramatic. I had no evidence at this time about financial abuse – it was more about lack of care and Vicky not eating. I rang social services but was told she didn’t meet the criteria for support. I had never dealt with anything like this before but I was growing in confidence about my suspicions and left a checklist with Paul, being quite firm with him to complete budget information. He cancelled every meeting from then on and, as Vicky never answered the phone, I had to try something different so I contacted Vicky’s mum, Val.

Val was so grateful for the call. I had had no reason to call her before but I’m so glad I did as she told me that Paul was awful - and that he’d taken £30,000 out of Vicky’s account when her husband had died. The police and social services had been involved but Vicky hadn’t pressed charges. This new information proved to me that my gut instincts about Paul had been right all along. He had kept Vicky isolated and seemed to have brainwashed her against Val.

The next time I visited, Paul had finally left a couple of very old bank statements and benefit information out for me. I asked Vicky how she was getting on with meals on wheels and she told me that they had been cancelled altogether. Vicky had lost even more weight; her clothes were hanging off her. She looked withdrawn and ill.

I was able to properly investigate now – I only had snippets of information before which were hard to piece together without any hard evidence. I was shocked to find Vicky was in arrears with bills and that Paul had Vicky’s bank card – she had given it to him trusting him to use it to pay her bills. She had no idea she was in arrears and a list of incomings and outgoings that Paul had left me was completely false. There was a weekly shortfall of between £150-£200 which didn’t add up.

The next time I visited, Paul had left bank cards out. I never saw him again; he knew he had been found out. I went through all the financial discrepancies with Vicky and we rang social services. I went round a few days later to check on Vicky and all she was eating was sandwiches. There were just a few tins in the food cupboard and nothing in the fridge. Once when I asked her what she’d had for lunch she replied: “Nothing.”

I then discovered the full extent of Paul’s fraudulent behaviour. Accounts had been opened in Vicky’s name without her knowledge and money owed; there was no money in other accounts but just overdrafts. I found out Paul had applied for hundreds of accounts in her name. All in all, the fraud amounted to around £60,000 and I now had proof so I was finally able to report him to social services.

I never gave up and would advise anyone else from a safeguarding perspective to do the same. Trust your gut instincts and if you think something is wrong: keep going. It is great to have finally got justice for Vicky in the end. She was moved to a sheltered scheme and her mum was able to relax, knowing that Vicky was safe and being properly cared for. Sadly, Vicky passed away recently but it’s good to know that I made the end of her life much happier and more comfortable.