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Old and Vulnerable



A population isn’t like a person, because a population can get younger. That happened in Britain and the rest of the developed world during the so-called “Baby Boom”. There were more young people as a share of the population, but once the “Baby Boom” faded away something was certain to happen in the future.

The population would get older, as ageing Baby Boomers gained a higher and higher share of the population. That’s what is happening now in the UK, so we may see more unhappy stories like one that has recently been reported from Warwickshire. A woman called Melanie Oliver, who was manager of a care home in the village of Kineton, has been jailed for stealing money from its residents.

The care home specialized in providing accommodation for old people with dementia. It’s a condition that leaves those who suffer from it unable to look after their own finances, so they and their relatives have to trust in the honesty of those who look after them. Thankfully, in the vast majority of cases their trust is well-placed, but not at the River Meadows care home in Kineton. Beginning in 2011, Melanie Oliver stole thousands of pounds, using the bank cards of residents to make withdrawals from their accounts.

She relied on their dementia and her own cunning to keep the thefts secret, but fortunately her crimes came to light. Prime Life Ltd, the company that owned the care home, grew suspicious and called in the police. They discovered that large sums had been withdrawn regularly from residents’ accounts, often used to pay for items like jewellery and alcohol that residents themselves had no use for. Even more damningly, the unauthorized withdrawals stopped when Melanie Oliver was out of the country on one of the many expensive holidays she managed to enjoy.

She failed in her attempts to implicate another member of staff at the care home in the thefts, was prosecuted at Warwick Crown Court, and sentenced to three years in jail. As the judge commented: she committed a gross breach of trust against vulnerable old people, compounding her offence by trying to deflect suspicion onto a wholly innocent person. One of the residents in particular was badly affected by the thefts. He was a 90-year-old war veteran who lost his life savings, which he had intended to cover the cost of his funeral. He spent his final days devastated at the thought that he would have to have a pauper’s funeral instead.

Stories like this are shocking, but that very fact tells us something positive. They’re shocking because they’re relatively rare: most care homes for the elderly provide good service to their residents and most of those who save for their funerals don’t have their money stolen before they pass away. Nevertheless, with an ageing population there will be more opportunities for criminals to prey on those rendered vulnerable by dementia and other conditions.

Forewarned is forearmed and the police have already begun to devote resources and manpower to the problem of crimes against the elderly. It was officers from the recently formed Adults at Risk Unit of Warwickshire Police who successfully investigated Melanie Oliver’s thefts and brought her to justice. But all of us can do something to prevent such crimes, whether we help ageing friends and relatives or prepare for our own days as an old person. Making a funeral plan in good time is an excellent way of protecting ourselves from misfortune and ensuring that we have exactly the funeral we want.

National Federation of Funeral Directors