A Ramsgate pensioner who was groomed in her own home over a number of years by a supposed friend who pocketed £15,000 of her life savings is calling for the closure of ‘a loophole’ in domestic abuse laws that she believes could have been used to arrest the culprit.
Margaret*, who has asked not to be identified, says domestic abuse laws cover financial abuse but only by relatives or spouses. She has asked MP Craig Mackinlay to raise the issue so that other relationships, such as long-term friendships, are covered.
Margaret, who is in her 70s and now suffering poor health, says over a period of six years the man befriended her and then began to insinuate his way into her life, eventually borrowing money and persuading her to stand guarantor for a large loan that he never repaid.
She is just one of several targets of the same man over the course of five to six years, all of whom are alleging financial loss either through loans or non-payment for services.
‘I thought he was my friend’
Margaret said: “It was very subtle. I thought he was my friend. We met working at (a town visitor attraction) and helping at events.
“He started coming around for meals and was a sort of surrogate son. When I look back I think I was being coerced and he was using emotional blackmail.
“It has made me sick. I have had heart problems and the doctor asked if I was under stress so I told him about it.
“He was around for six years on and off until one day last August he suddenly stopped coming.
“I ended up having panic attacks and a care coordinator I saw said (the man) had been grooming me. I didn’t think of it like that at the time but my son was (abroad) and we had lockdown.”
Last year the situation finally came to a head when the grandmother began feeling very unsafe in her home.
“He had been staying in a hotel and working in security. Then very early one morning he turned up with a full suitcase and backpack and said he had been made homeless. I told him to come back later. I didn’t want him here but I thought he was working nights and I just didn’t have the strength to fight him. I was really ill by this point.
“He was here for about a week and then I told him he couldn’t stay any longer. I don’t know where he went although I heard a couple of days later he went to RISE (homelessness service) and got a room.
“I have heard from other people who were victims and I hope other people will come forward if they think they have been treated in this way. I don’t know where he is now.”
Margaret says the situation was reported to police but they were unable to arrest the man and there was no help offered from county council safeguarding services.
She said: “It’s elder abuse. I have asked Craig Mackinlay to talk to government about it as I think it is domestic abuse. The new domestic abuse act is a great improvement but you have to be family or in a close relationship. This abuse happened in my home, he might not have hit me over the head but it still happened in my house by a person I trusted.
“My son says I have to move on and concentrate on my health and my life but I want to use what happened to me in a positive way and try and prevent other people falling victim to this.”
MP Craig Mackinlay has written to the Ramsgate grandmother to say he has noted concerns that victims of elder abuse from ‘personally connected’ perpetrators fail to meet criteria needed for a charge to be made under the Domestic Abuse Act despite incidents happening in their own homes. He says although he welcomes the act and extensions that have been made to it, he has raised her points with the Home Office.
Kent Police says the force investigated possible fraud offences committed against the woman after she approached an officer in November 2021.
A police spokesperson said: “It was alleged that, over a number of years, the woman had lent money to a man she knew, who had not paid it back, and acted as a guarantor on a loan he took out, which he did not repay.
“Officers from Thanet’s Vulnerability Investigation Team spoke to the woman and examined messages between the two parties, as well as financial documents.
“Following enquiries, the case did not meet the evidential test and no further action was taken against the man. The woman was given advice by officers and the investigation has been filed pending any further information coming to light.”
Detective Chief Inspector Ben Loose, of the East Kent Vulnerability Investigation Team, added: ‘Kent Police is committed to protecting adults from exploitation and abuse and has specialist trained officers and staff who work to do so.
“I would encourage anyone who fears someone they know is being abused or exploited to report it to police; either online, by calling 101 or visiting your local police station.
“We will work to bring offenders to justice and, in cases where charges are not brought, we can also offer people advice and direct them to sources of support to make sure they are safe.”
*Margaret is a pseudonym to protect the woman’s identity
One in six older people in the UK are victims of abuse. Hourglass UK (previously www.elderabuse.org.uk) states: “Economic [financial] abuse is one of the most widespread forms of abuse of older people. Between 2017 and 2019, 39% of all calls to our helpline were about economic abuse and in 2020, at least £13 million was reported as stolen, defrauded, or coerced from older victims.”
Financial abuse is where someone in a position of trust interferes in an older person’s ability to acquire, use or maintain their finances. It is always a crime but not always prosecuted.
An abuser might exploit an older person by making demands for large transfers.
An abuser might control an older person’s access to financial resources by refusing to let them access a bank account.
An abuser might sabotage an older person’s ability to maintain financial security by building up debt in their name.
Hourglass – get help
Hourglass is the UK’s only charity focused on the abuse and neglect of older people
The charity has nearly 30 years’ experience as Action on Elder Abuse and over that time its work has touched tens of thousands of people, shaped government policy and amplified the issue in national press.
The charity staffs a free-to-call helpline which is a lifeline for older men, women and their families suffering from the five forms of abuse: physical, psychological, financial, sexual or neglect.
24/7 free helpline (number will not appear on your phone bill) 0808 808 8141
Text 07860 052906