Comedy star: I was robbed of my dignity, freedom and £325,000... by ‘caring’ council
He was one of Britain’s best loved character actors, but now Howard Lew Lewis endures a Kaf kaesque ordeal that will send a chill through any family who care for an elderly relative
AN ACTOR who once appeared in some of Britain’s best-loved television comedies claims he is being ‘held hostage’ by a Scottish local authority which has ‘robbed’ him of his life savings. Howard Lew Lewis became a familiar face to viewers of shows such as Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, Brush Strokes and Blackadder.
But now he is fighting an extraordinary battle with the City of Edinburgh Council after it seized control of his finances, including TV royalties, and more than £300,000 from the sale of his home.
The council assumed guardianship over Mr Lewis and his affairs, claiming he does not have the mental capacity to make decisions for himself.
But Mr Lewis claims the council has committed a major injustice and has abused its safeguarding powers.
He says council officials failed to discuss the move with either him or his daughter, leaving him trapped against his will in a community hospital while being denied access to his own money and savings.
The 76-year-old has issued an impassioned plea to the council to surrender guardianship and let him move into a house with his daughter Debbie and his grandson.
Although Mr Lewis suffers from the early stages of dementia, when he spoke to The Scottish Mail on Sunday from his bed in a care home he was crystal clear in his demands.
He said: ‘I want to go home. I’m just here in my bed all day and they won’t let me out.
‘I want my money. I haven’t had any money for months and months. I just wish they’d give it to Debbie.
‘I had a very good life. The jobs, the acting, it’s been really straightforward, and it’s a pity I can’t have that now. It’s a pity we couldn’t continue that way, because we could’ve done, you know.’
Mr Lewis’s only child, his daughter Deborah Milazzo, 42, is fighting on his behalf to end the council’s control and to be made his guardian herself.
She said: ‘They’re practically holding him hostage. All I want is for my dad, my son and me to be together, but that won’t happen this Christmas.
‘Edinburgh City Council are robbing him of his life savings – his benefits, the money from the Surrey house, it’s horrendous. The council have effectively just stolen it from us. They’ve destroyed our family.’
For the millions of TV viewers who laughed along with Mr Lewis, known as Lewy, when he played pub landlord Elmo Putney in the hit 1980s TV show Brush Strokes, the sight of him now – unshaven, frail and hollow-cheeked – will be shocking.
Confined to a care home bed, his life now is a far cry from the glamour and excitement of his glory days as a TV star and he wishes he could still work.
He was born in a tower block in West London’s Maida Vale in 1941, and his early working life saw him employed as everything from paper delivery boy to a computer operator for the Royal Air Force.
But stardom ran in the family, with his grandmother being the internationally renowned opera singer Dame Ethel Gomer-Lewis.
Today, despite his age and the onset of dementia, his memories are still sharp as he tells how his career began. He said: ‘My mates were actors and I thought, “Well, that looks good – I’ll do that”. It wasn’t difficult for me. They weren’t difficult jobs and I enjoyed doing them all. I think it’s because they had the right writers. When you’ve got good writers, you don’t have to think.’
It was not long after his first audition at the Half Moon Theatre in East London that he became a regular fixture on TV, working alongside everyone from Ronnie Barker to Rowan Atkinson.
He was best known for his roles as Rabies in Maid Marian, Hal in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Elmo in Brush Strokes. Mr Lewis also played smaller parts in hit TV series such as Open All Hours, The Queen’s Nose, Chelmsford 123 and ITV drama Minder.
Looking back, he says: ‘I would’ve liked to do more acting. I really enjoyed it – but then this all happened.’
Mr Lewis’s serious health complications began in 2011 after the lower half of his right leg was amputated due to diabetes. He also suffered a stroke which left his right side paralysed.
As his condition worsened, his daughter helped him sell his house in Surrey and he moved to live with her in Edinburgh, planning to end his days with her and his grandson.
But in October 2015, Ms Milazzo – Mr Lewis’s daughter from his marriage to his second wife Anna, from whom he is divorced – found herself unable to care for him by herself at home. A doctor referred her father to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for an assessment to
‘The council have destroyed our family’
see if he qualified for a home care package.
She claims that then, with no warning and no consent from Mr Lewis, he was put into Pittendreich Care Home in Lasswade, Midlothian, for seven months. Meanwhile, the council was granted a ‘corporate appointee-ship’ which allowed it to take full control of both his welfare and finances.
In order to assume the role, which is ratified by Westminster’s Department for Work and Pensions, the patient – in this case, Mr Lewis – must be deemed either mentally or physically incapacitated or have no reliable family member to manage their affairs.
But Mr Lewis and Ms Milazzo maintain that the authorities never consulted him on the move.
They say that, had officials held a proper discussion with Mr Lewis, he would have asked for his daughter to take responsibility for him. Ms Milazzo said: ‘I couldn’t take him home, I couldn’t access his accounts. It was terrible.’
In July, Ms Milazzo won back control of her father’s welfare and finances, but their victory turned out to be short-lived.
His daughter recalled: ‘It was only for two weeks. I called the doctor because dad was feeling dizzy and disorientated, probably because he had been put on morphine.
‘Then two mental health officers arrived and told me he was mentally incapacitated, even though a district nurse’s report from June had said he was on good form, engaging well and joking.’
Mr Lewis was again taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before being put in Ellen’s Glen House, a community hospital in Liberton, Edinburgh, where he remains.
In a move that Mr Lewis has called ‘absolutely ridiculous’, the City of Edinburgh Council again has complete control over his welfare and finances – including his old age pension, his disability benefits, the £325,000 he made from the sale of his former home in Surrey and TV royalties from three different acting agencies. The former character actor is adamant he wants the council’s guardianship, granted on October 26, overturned.
Yesterday, as he lay in his hospital bed, Mr Lewis demanded: ‘Give the money to Debbie. Why can’t she have it?
‘I just want to be home. Instead I’ll spend Christmas all on my own. It’s miserable here. I just don’t know what to do.’
Last night, the City of Edinburgh Council confirmed that Mr Lewis was subject to welfare and financial guardianship but insisted that it had acted in his best interests.
A spokesman explained that, while at Ellen’s Glen House community hospital, Mr Lewis had lost the capacity to make his own decisions on his care and funds, and that in October of this year Edinburgh Sheriff Court ruled that a council social worker should become Mr Lewis’s welfare guardian with a solicitor his financial guardian.
The spokesman told The Scottish Mail on Sunday: ‘The safety and care of our service users, together with the protection of their rights, remains our highest priority.
‘There has been a deliberate move to shift the balance of care from hospitals to community-based settings, to care for people at home or in a homely setting.
‘The partnership works to achieve this wherever possible – however, in some cases, due to medical needs or safety concerns, this is not always feasible.’
DAYS OF GLAMOUR: Howard Lew Lewis with his second wife Anna Burke, mother of his daughter Debbie
FRAIL: Howard Lew Lewis with his daughter Debbie Milazzo