Shocking number of sheltered housing residents fall prey to crime in Lancashire

Evelyn Birchall, who was attacked at home
Evelyn Birchall, who was attacked at home
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Dozens of vulnerable residents in sheltered housing have fallen prey to crime, new figures show - with offences ranging from arson to sex assaults.

Just 14 of the 156 reports made since 2014/15 led to a charge or summons to court, sparking concerns from welfare charities that too many offenders are “getting away with their crimes”.

A Freedom of Information request to Lancashire police covering sheltered housing and assisted living showed the statistics include 13 assaults that resulted in an injury, 24 less serious assaults and 20 burglaries.

One person reported a rape, four more reported they were sexually assaulted and another person was the victim of a flasher.

Police also investigated four frauds and 36 thefts. Vandals have also made life a misery for elderly residents, 37 criminal damages recorded - including to homes and cars.

However, figures for the outcome of the reports show 77 cases were closed due to no line of enquiry, two others were closed due to unspecified circumstances, and five more were deemed “not in public interest” to investigate further.

Four offenders were cautioned rather than brought to court and 11 dealt with via ‘community resolution’, while almost 30 cases were dropped due to problems with the victims being too ill or difficulties with their evidence.

One charity is calling for better regulation for sheltered complexes, which are not regulated by the Care Quality Commission in the way care homes are.

Stephen McCarthy, director for England at Action on Elder Abuse, said: “These findings on abuse in sheltered accommodation are deeply troubling and should trigger an urgent investigation into what is happening, and what is being done about it.

“Looking at Lancashire Constabulary’s figures, it’s concerning that of 156 incidents reported, fewer than nine per cent resulted in a summons or charge, with many cases dropped due to an alleged lack of evidence or no line of inquiry. This suggests many offenders are getting away with their crimes.

“Sheltered housing is not regulated in the same way as residential homes, and most complexes no longer have dedicated managers living on site. And yet there is an increasing number of frail and very vulnerable older people living there, part of a government strategy to keep people at home for longer – but without the same protections.

“Too few cases of abuse ever get prosecuted. We have no doubt that these latest figures are the tip of an iceberg, and that many cases in sheltered housing go unreported.”

Age Concern Central Lancashire also fears the figures are under-reported and today encouraged the public to play their own part in helping investigations by reporting any concerns.

Executive director Iain Pearson said: ‘While the figures suggest offences in sheltered housing and assisted living schemes are quite low in Lancashire, we know that each day the abuse of older people at risk goes unreported.

“Sadly Age Concern is not surprised by the top three offences of theft, assault and criminal damage as older people are seen as easy targets and are particularly vulnerable to these types of crimes.

“We urge anyone living within these settings or their family and friends to remain vigilant and to look out for the signs of elder abuse such as changes in behaviour, unexplained injury, signs of fear or distress and theft or fraud and to raise concerns with the local authority, police or a trusted source such as a nurse or doctor. The figures suggest that offences which result in charges/summons are very low and we urge anyone to help the authorities with their investigations.”

One woman whose mum was attacked by a violent burglar in sheltered housing said the statistics were “awful”.

Evelyn Birchall, 89, feared she would be raped when intruder Andrew Hodgkinson attacked her and ransacked her home in Chorley.

Hodgkinson, 36, of Ullswater Road, Chorley, was caged for six years and eight months after a court heard how he brutally threw her across the room with such force she was knocked out.

Reacting to the figures, her daughter Larraine Hilton said: “It is awful when you look at the reality of it.

“My mum will never be the same. These crimes last a lifetime. You can still see marks on her face from where she was beaten. But she was just glad he’d been put away.”

What the authorities say

The statistics do not show how many of the cases were referred to the CPS for a charging decision.

It is understood in most out of court disposals, such as a community resolution, the police do not refer the cases to the CPS.

A CPS spokesman said: “Safety and security and the right to live free from the fear of crime are fundamental rights for everyone regardless of their age or disability.

“Where the victim of a crime has age-related health problems we will consult with them, and with their relatives, carers or medical experts to consider what can be done to help that person to give their evidence.

“If someone is not able to take part in criminal proceedings, for example if even with appropriate support they are not able to understand or remember information, we will work with police to see what other evidence might be available to prove the case in court.

“If there is any evidence that there is an aggravating element to an offence based on a victim’s perceived vulnerability or frailty because of age, we will draw it to the attention of the court.”

The overall number of crimes reported has fallen from 51 in 2014-15 to 38 in 2016-17.

A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: “We always encourage anyone who believes they have been a victim of crime to report it to us and we will investigate thoroughly.

“Offences against the elderly and vulnerable are particularly callous and we treat victims with respect and dignity.”

As police battle the problems posed by evidential requirements, officers have tried other tactics to protect victims.

Det Sgt Greg Bashall of Lancashire Constabulary added: “Crimes involving the elderly members of Lancashire continue to be reported through various avenues, either by a relative directly to the police, a staff member within a care home establishment directly to the police, via Lancashire Safeguarding Adults, or a ‘whistle-blower’.

“All cases are investigated on an individual basis, taking into account each elderly victim and their vulnerability.

“A joined up working agreement with Lancashire Police, Lancashire Safeguarding Adults along with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) provides the elderly residents of Lancashire with the reassurance that there are processes in place to protect their vulnerabilities.”

Case study: Christine Massaro

Successful prosecutions include a sheltered accommodation warden who stole more than £40,000 from a pensioner with physical and mental difficulties.

Christine Massaro (pictured) was subjected to Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings at Preston Crown Court after admitting two frauds and a theft.

Massaro, 64, of Lulworth Avenue, Ashton, Preston, helped herself to Miss Norcross’s savings while working at the Bannister Brook sheltered accommodation complex in Leyland between 2013 and 2015. Massaro used the pensioner’s bank card to make several debit card transactions and also withdrew £4,600 from the pensioner’s account.

Concerns were raised when the pensioner,told a member of staff Massaro was the ‘appointee’ over her financial issues and had all her bank cards - when no such details were described in her care plan. Massaro was given an 18-month jail term suspended for two years and was ordered to pay £1,500 costs.

Recorder Harry Narayan found Massaro had benefited from her crimes to the tune of £42,683.