My mother’s carer left like our justice system
Broadcaster LIZ KERSHAW reveals how a trusted cleaner stole thousands of pounds and family heirlooms from her housebound mother Eileen Pickup but she has been allowed to walk free from court because of previous ‘good character’
LAST month Claire Louise Davis of Rochdale pleaded guilty to helping herself to thousands of pounds from my mother’s bank account. I was told she was being prosecuted for stealing £72,000. But something went on to which I, the next of kin to the victim, who actually detected the crime and then reported it to the police, am not privy so I still don’t know why the amount was reduced to £20,000 in court.
Whatever. Claire Davis, 45, walked free from Burnley Crown Court after the judge accepted she was ashamed and that she had written letters of apology to my mum Eileen and me.
Really? Letters? We’ve not had any letters. Perhaps they’ve got “lost” in the post. After all, things did seem to go missing when she was around.
Davis was first welcomed into my mum’s home about 10 years ago when, on the recommendation of the next door neighbour, she started working as a cleaner. At the time my mum and her husband Ron were sharing their dream home, a cosy stone barn conversion on the edge of the moors overlooking Rochdale.
Both were councillors and had met at meetings. Ron was a widower and when my mum split up from her longterm partner they married in 1997. Before long they’d both retired comfortably on pensions but continued to be active in public life.
My mum finally retired as a councillor in 2015 after 50 years, having been a mayor three times. She was honoured by Lancashire County Council and wore her Alderman’s “gold medal” with pride when she and Ron attended civic events.
But in 2014 Ron’s chronic diabetes caused life changing complications and he was taken into a nursing home leaving my mum, now 80, living alone for the first time in her life.
By now she’d developed serious health issues herself, making her less mobile so she began to rely on help around the house and for transport. So Davis became her personal carer. She was not vetted or licensed.
My mum had known her now for many years and treated her as a member of the family. Both through politics and in the pastoral role of a head teacher, my mum has always fought for the rights and well-being of the less fortunate.
Davis seemed to work “hard” for my mum for a couple of years I’ll give her that. And then I noticed little evidence of any effort at all being made to keep the house clean. Or even tidy. Sometimes it was quite shocking but I won’t embarrass my mum by going into grim details. Let’s just say mum had a dog and couldn’t take him out.
When I would point this out to my mum she always got very defensive. When I’d ask what exactly Davis did for 20 hours a week I’d get told I had a nasty suspicious mind and that it was none of my business.
But it was. My mum and her home seemed neglected to me. The idea of staying there was repellent. I seemed to spend my visits cleaning and shopping when I should have been chatting to my mum. I wanted to understand why. I also wanted to understand why my mum, who still had all her marbles, kept losing things. Like the new iPad she’d only bought a few weeks ago. Or the huge antique gold locket my dad had bought her one Christmas when I was a child. He’d taken me with him to buy it. I can still remember the excitement of that day out in Manchester.
CYNICAL: Claire Davis pleaded guilty to theft at Burnley Crown Court
oblivious to the theft and died in Peterborough City Hospital four days later on October 12.
Mrs Banks’ only son Jim described the crime as “appalling”.
He said: “This stolen money would mean nothing to my poor mum because she has died now but if this happened to another elderly person it would completely destroy their livelihood.
“I want whoever did this The precious memories of which always flooded back to me whenever she wore it. It must have been worth £1,000 in scrap gold alone. Never mind the sentimental value of a treasured item with photos of her two children that she’d worn for 40 years. All gone. So were the slippers she’d bought me for Christmas and a ring she wanted to give me. There was the new car she bought in 2015. “Oh Claire’s taken it.
“She keeps it at her house so she can run errands for me,” my mum said without making eye contact. I didn’t know where to turn.
Then in 2016 my mum’s GP decided she needed home visits from a care agency. He wanted people calling by to help her with meals and medication. He was surprised to hear Davis was her morning carer, companion and, er, cleaner but he arranged for agency staff to come in the afternoons, evenings and when Davis was on holiday – which she regularly was at my mum’s caravan with her family (I thought she had nobody?!)
Because Davis was now treated as “like a daughter to me”. My mother, who has always been known for not mincing her words, seemed terrified to say anything that might upset her. “Oh don’t say that Elizabeth. What would I do without her?”
Indeed. Davis groomed my mum with sob stories, cynical flattery and false affection. The judge characterised her as: “Mean spirited, selfish and cruel.” He was right. Her theft from my mum wasn’t spontaneous. It was ruthless. She didn’t just take a few quid just when my mum left her purse out. For at least 15 months she helped herself from my mum’s bank account. Sometimes £550 a day in cash. With the card my mother gave her to get a bit of food for herself. And her beloved little dog Charlie.
But in late 2016 I was contacted, as my mum’s next of kin, by social services. My mum’s bank had not paid out on standing orders for carers because there were no funds available.
Hang on? What about my mum’s pension? Ron had died and she was getting his too. There should be plenty of money in her account. She never went out to spend anything.
My mum couldn’t find any bank statements. “Oh Claire takes care of all that”. And Barclays Bank wouldn’t deal with me. Client confidentiality and data protection ruled supreme.
At Christmas 2016 my mum rang me sobbing. Davis had quit her job saying she had too much other work.
In early 2017 a meeting was convened with the family and social workers at my mum’s house. Davis “just happened” to turn up. The social workers asked her about bank statements. She went into the other room and returned to say she couldn’t find any. “Eileen (my mum) must have thrown them all away,” she said.
It took a few months to persuade my now housebound mum to venture out to Barclays Bank Rochdale with me. With her authorisation, we got bank statements back to February 2016. Why had this new account even been opened after 65 years of being a Yorkshire Bank customer? Only Davis knows that.
The statements showed that from an opening balance of £86,000 and with over £2,000 a month pension going in each month for 15 months (so say £30,000), there was just £9,000 left. For some months there were pages and pages of withdrawals. In one month £13,000 of transactions that my mother couldn’t recognise had been taken out.
I took this wad of paper home and spent 10 solid hours combing through it to formulate a spreadsheet with columns for types of expenditure.
Takeaways (McDonald’s etc) Restaurants (Pizza Hut etc)
Shops (JD Sports, Halfords etc) Supermarkets (on Christmas Eve for £120 when my mum wasn’t hosting for Christmas)
Petrol (a full tank three times a week when mum was house bound)
A brand new electric fan oven just before Christmas 2016. Was it for my mum? Was it hell.
Cash from ATMs = £36,000!
On May 19, 2017 I found myself in a rather shabby interview room at Burnley Police Station. I made a complaint and gave the PC an organised indexed folder of my spreadsheets. He complimented me on my forensic evidence and took a statement.
“Sorry we wont be able to assign a detective to this unfortunately. They’re all busy with historic sex abuse cases. We had that Ken Barlow in here you know” he boasted. I pointed out that he was a TV soap character, not real. And left.
It took 18 months, two complaints to the Lancashire Constabulary, one from me and one from my mum’s MP to the Chief Constable, a written apology from the Force that my mum was not “served well by Lancashire Police” and the replacement of one officer to get anything done. Davis was finally arrested, charged with stealing £72,000 and appeared in court on November 12.
After trying to blame me for stealing my mum’s money she finally pleaded guilty at the 11th hour on Monday, November 19. After a long discussion with her (legal aid-funded) defence
SHATTERED: Liz’s mother Eileen