Daylight Robbery Spotlight

Daylight Robbery

Hard-hitting investigations. Brian Hollywood reports on how vulnerable pensioners are being conned out of their savings.

Similar Content

Browse content similar to Daylight Robbery. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!



It was daylight robbery, caught on security camera. The victim, a


pensioner, was on the where her money was been stolen. Have you


ever seen a crime as brazen as this? The answer is no, 30 years


with Nationwide and this is a very unique. This elderly woman became a


victim of so-called friends who visited her every day. These people


were opportunistic thieves. It was clear the intention was to take her


money. They were going to leave her penniless. The it is something


people do not like to think is happening and there are more people


who are vulnerable. This couple, Seamus and Colleen McPolin, pleaded


guilty to stealing almost �100,000 from Mel Irvine, aged 85, who


suffered from dementia. In police interviews, Seamus said he did


nothing wrong. She is not a victim of a crime there is no crime. She


Seamus and Colleen McPolin nearly got away with it. They almost


succeeded in stealing the entire life savings of a vulnerable


pension. How did they come so close to making off with the money? What


tripped them up and what about the rest of the cash that police say is


unaccounted for? The missing money It was a simple crime, but it


raised complex questions about how we treat vulnerable older people.


To the outside world, Seamus and Colleen McPolin did not seem like


calculating criminals. They appeared a kind couple, willing to


visit an elderly woman and keep an eye on her. How often was Seamus


here and what was his relationship to her? He arrived every morning. I


used to work in Newry and I would leave around 8am and he would be in


the Front Street, arriving in his taxi. A newspaper, a pint of milk.


To give to her? As any good son would do. Mel Irvine did not have a


son and had few friends. She was known to be generous. We moved in


11 years ago. Mel came with a house-warming present to welcome us


to the estate. She was a nice, granny sort of neighbour. She is


remembered fondly by another neighbour. In her heyday, always


well dressed. Absolutely and totally devoted to her cats. She


lived for those cats. I think they were her life. When Mel Irvine was


born in 1925, Warrenpoint was a sleepy town. As a young woman, she


moved England and got married. But her home town retained a special


place in her heart. She persuaded her husband Arthur to leave London


and retire to Warrenpoint. After his death, neighbours noticed she


was going downhill. One day, she called to neighbours and claimed a


stranger broke into her home and was hiding upstairs. She was


nervous and agitated. We searched the house downstairs. We could not


get into some of the rooms, she had locks on every door. Walking around


with a big key, opening up everyone. I said there is nobody in a house.


She said they were up in the attic, very nervous. Very afraid. We asked


how they would get up into the attic. We asked to the person was.


She named the name. She said he had a tunnel. A tunnel into the attic.


She locked herself into the bedroom and the police had to kick the door


in, which was upsetting for everybody, not least Mel. We were


upset for have. The it was clear something was wrong? Absolutely.


This would be going back five years. Before there McPolins Came on the


scene. I thought they were doing her a good turn. I thought they


were kind to her, but I did not know they were taking their money.


Clearly she had neighbours concerned for her welfare, so how


could it happen that she was comm from an -- out of her money? P Paul


did not want to get involved, -- people. If they go to the police


and they arrive, and there would be inquiries. Sadly, we have moved to


a place where people live in isolation. We tend to mind our own


business. We as neighbours feel as if we have let her down. She used


to come out to talk to us and we were her friends. And for them to


be rubbing her in plain sight of us and for us to do nothing about it,


mainly because we did not know about it, maybe we could have done


more ourselves. It is hard to know. When you think that somebody is


looking after her, and they were doing the right thing... Mel is now


being care, but her house is unchanged since the day she left


last year. Her family said she was trusting and vulnerable, who had


pride. They say they are shocked and appalled that anybody would


take advantage of her. The pensioner lived modestly. She was


not a big spender. By the time she was 85, she had �120,000 in her


building society. One of the luxury she allowed herself was to take


taxes. She began to rely on one driver, Seamus McPolin. Seamus


McPolin was a driver in the town for 15 years and would have known


Mel and her late husband in that time. Whenever her illness became


apparent, both Colleen and Seamus McPolin recognised it as an


opportunity to steal money. Spotlight has access to the police


interview tapes. In his interviews, Seamus painted a picture of a close


Mel did not keep in touch with her extended family. After her husband


died, she often spent Christmas Day alone and her life was solitary.


She did not seem to mind. The couple had known her since the late


1990s and claimed to be attached to her. I think Seamus and Colleen


McPolin became close to her in the sense that they became regular


visitors to her home. I could not and would not say she formed at


anything approaching an attachment to them. In the absence of anyone


else, the couple became indispensable to Mel and took her


shopping and to the hairdressers and arranged the jobs to be done


around the house. Colleen McPolin did not work which meant she could


spend plenty of time with the pensioner. He did you think that


Coleen was? And we thought she was the carrot. No other reason she


should call as regularly as she did? -- Colleen. They set about


taking her money. This CCTV shows them queuing up to take money. Mel


asks for a cheque for �50,000 made out in the name of Seamus McPolin.


It takes minutes. The cheque represented a big slice of her life


savings. They thought they had got away with what was in effect


daylight robbery. But the couple were not aware that the branch


manager was on to them. She had known Mel for years and knew how


she usually came in a loan and never took out large sums of money.


The area manager said that his branch managers are trained to spot


suspicious activity, especially with older customers. My manager


made a phone call to misses and she answered. Before she could talk,


another lady took over the telephone and described what there


cheque was made payable to and what it was for. We thought that Mrs


Irvine had never talked about this and it compounded our suspicions.


The explanation was that Mel was planning an extension to the House,


a house that was too big for her. It was clearly his story the couple


had concocted. And that was borne out in the story. They were


rehearsed in what they would stay - - sake. That next day, the police


paid a visit to the house. The front door was opened by Colleen


McPolin. Mel's mental state had gone into such a decline she could


not make a complaint. The police found an elderly woman who was


confused. She did not know she had a building society account, or that


it once contained her life savings. In her handbag -- Colleen's hand


back they found the cheque and arrested her. Her husband was


arrested later that day. Mel was not aware of what she was doing and


did not seem to be aware of the transactions she was carrying out.


Last month, the couple pleaded guilty to stealing from Mrs Irvine.


But cases of this nature rarely make it to court. They are


difficult to prove because they rely on the testimony of a usually


confused victim. Researchers estimate in Northern Ireland are


older people with dementia were swindled out of well over �2


What we know about is the tip of the iceberg. A lot is going on that


is not reported or not taken any further. If the building society


manager hadn't raised any concerns, the theft of �50,000 would have


gone unchallenged. Mel had no-one else keepingan eye on her financial


interests. In his police interviews, Seamus tried to convince


investigators that he was only Seamus said he never intended to


keep the money, that the �50,000 would just sit in his bank account


until Mel needed it. The police were totally unconvinced. These


people are opportunistic thieves. It was their intention to take all


of her money. They were going to clean her out entirely? Leave her


penniless. This was the second advice thait week that Mel and the


McPolins' had made to the building society to withdraw thousands of


pounds of her money. This is Seamus McPolin with Mel. He tells the


cashie that Mel has lost her ATM card and needed a new one. Staff


became suspicious as she usually only used her bank book to withdraw


money over the counter. No. No. She didn't use the ATM machine.


didn't use the ATM machine herself at all? Not to our knowledge. We


tried to show her how. She may have used it internally here, but, you


know, it wouldn't have been a regular feature. Seamus also gets


Mel to transfer �5,000 from her savings account to her current


account. When staff advise Mel that she will be losing interest, Seamus


insists, claiming that she needs �5,000 for household bills.


Spotlight has learnt that there had already been substantial amounts of


money disappearing from Mel's current account throughout 2008. In


the month of May �1,450 was taken out. In June a further �1,600 and


in August �1,400. Police are convinced the McPolins were


draining this current account. wasn't a lady who was spending


large amounts of cash that we could see. I would suspect that that


money was going traigt to the -- straight to the McPolins. Women


over 81 years of age Are the most common victims of financial abuse.


In that sense, they had found the ideal candidate in Mel Irvine in


her mid-80's, childless, widowed, increasingly isolated befriending


her and gaining her confidence was the first step along the road to


stealing her entire life savings? It sounds like grooming? Grooming


is exactly how we would describe this. They took over Mel's life.


They moved in, they ensured she was dressed. She looked respectable.


Her house was tidy. Her courtans were open. Her gardens were well


kept. They were with her every time she went out through the door.


the outside world, Mel had two good friends, but the reality was very


different. Most of the case that is we would come across actually


happen within families. It's quite a sinister almost. God love her,


she wasn't aware of the money going. They betrayed her trust and that is


every bit as much to blame as to taking her money. To get a


prosecution, the police had to prove that Mel was incapable of


looking after her finances and that they had exploited this. In his


police interviews, Seamus played However, when officers questioned


Colleen, she contradicted her husband. Over the three swer


interviews she gave police, she changed her opinion on whether Mel


They claimed to be her children, but did they treat her like a


mother? If these people were the children that Mel never had, you


would expect your children to take care of you. These people ought to


have brought this condition to the attention of medical professionals


who could have helped her. They didn't do that. Anywhere else in


the UK, the McPolins' could have been prosecuted for failing to


bring Mel's condition to the attention of the authorities. Not


in Northern Ireland, there is no specific duty to inform. When the


McPolins' didn't act, Spotlight has learnt there had been attempts to


examine what might have been happening to her mind. At one stage


she was assessed by a psychiatrist after a friend reported concerns to


Mel's doctor. She found to be suffering from considerable


confusion and forgetfulness, but she refused to undergo a CT scan


and didn't attend the hospital appointments that had been made for


her. The essence of the problem is, how can someone in the midst of


mental decline be expected to make major decision abouts how and if


they should be treated? It's a question between protecting them


and yet allowing them to make progress. Allowing someone fo have


privacy and live in their own home and were text them from people who


will want to undermine them in society. I think, I do believe it's


a bigger problem than we appreciate at the moment. We are getting a


much older population coming on who will have more money than perhaps


they did years ago. By the time Mel was medically assessed, in the


day's after the McPolins' arrest, her confusion and dementia were so


advanced that she lacked any ability to manage her finances. Her


bank accounts were frozen and her solicitor was given official


control control of her affairs. Mel was also given round-the-clock


support so that she could continue to live at home. Stephen Compton


never treated Mel, but he has seen a psychiatric report on her, which


charted a steady deterioration in her mind as a result of Alzheimer's.


She can't do simple arithmetic. You would expect someone of that


generation to be able to count money easily. She can't handle or


even identify money. Anyone who would ask someone with these


problems to write a cheque, I think, really, you would have to query the


motive for it -- query the motive for it. As a woman with dementia,


Mel would not have known that the McPolin's attention wasn't genuine.


Mel, from the people that we have spoken, to was a very as tuet lady.


There is no way that they could have taken advantage of her had she


not been ill. I think people with dementia have vulnerabilites about


the fact that they do get confused very easily. They may forget what


is happening because memory is affected on most cases of dementia.


So it does make it easier to dupe somebody. Last year, almost one


person in eight with dementia here was conned out of money or property.


By its nature deception is an insidious crime that can be hard to


spot and often goes unreported. Financial abuse in particular is


really a silent epidemic in the UK. We see all sorts of evidence like


this about people hiding people from the authorities in order to


take money from them or get their house signed over. Stephen Compton


is frustrated by the level of support and protection that people


with dementia get here. He believes there has been failure to put


proper legislation in place in NI. Do you think the law as it stands


in Northern Ireland currently protects people as vulnerable as


Mel? There is more sanction on people who abuse animals than there


is on people who abuse older people. It's time that was changed. We need


capacity legislation, now. Local MLA Jim Wells concedes there is


inadequate protection here for those who don't have the capacity


to look after themselves, but warns it will be some time before such


legislation will be introduced. the absence of legislation there is


not a lot that can be done. We are working on it. Really you are


talking at least three years before this issue is resolved. His party


colleague, Nigel Dodds, is trying to bring in extra protection for


the elderly in the House of Commons. His Bill raises awareness of all


types of elder abuse, but it is at an early stage. The police


investigation also uncovered that ten months before their arrest,


Colleen McPolin had taken Mel into the Nationwide and had withdrawn a


cheque for �46,000 Seamus McPolin's name. Why hadn't Mel's bank


questioned that withdrawal? Why did you give the cheque for �46,000?


The lady signed for. It we checked with her several times. You do what


you are instructed. That was the first occasion. You do what you're


instructed. The McPolins' took Mel's money and told no-one about


it. They used to pay off their �26,000 mortgage and to ren nait


their conservatory. On that occasion they claimed the money was


a generous gift from Mel, a gift they managed to keep secret until


their arrest ten months later. When questioned, Seamus couldn't see the


harm in concealing the gift: Do you think it could have been a gift


from Mel? No. Under no circumstances would I believe that.


It was very clear to us that Mel was incapable of making those sorts


of decisions. We asked Seamus and Colleen to take part in this


programme and to clarify where Mel's missing ATM money went. They


declined. When I spoke to Mrs McPolin at her home she insisted


that Mel is still mentally alert even though the elderly woman is


now in care and has been deemed incapable of looking after herself.


When they eventually pleaded guilty to theft, the McPolin's re-


mortgaged their house to pay back the �46,000 to Mel. The judge took


this into account and they avoided jail, receiving a suspended


sentence of three years. Have you ever seen a crime as brazen as


this? The answer is no. This is very, very unique. Some of Mel's


neighbours and a local MLA believe the sentence should have been


harsher to deter others? You would of given them prison sentences?


definitely. What is the difference of them robbing a bank? You don't


see many bank robbers getting off free. If it was my mother, I


wouldn't be happy.. The community are absolutely appalled, outraged


at the level of the suspended sentence. People think it's


inadequate. They paid back the money. They admitted their guilt.


Surely, they have suffered enough? They had no intention of owning up.


If it wasn't for the vidge lens of a Nationwide official this crime


wouldn't of been detect and they would of got away with �90,000.


bank accounts were frozen and her solicitor was given official right


of her affairs. It's a proper and balanced decision. Mel can never


get back the chance to slow down the progress of her illness. The


police suggest that the polyethelene were sheltering her


from public view, keeping her away from medics and naebs neighbours.


If they had done something about her condition, could she have been


helped? That is quite possible. She could of had treatment which could


have prevented her getting worse. Her condition and situation could


have been improved on. Those who witness Mel's decline are relieved


that she is now being looked after by professionals with her best


interests at heart. It's sad. She lived there for so long There is


one saving grace from all of this, she is now in a secure home. She's


being fed. She has a roof over her head. She is getting her medication.


To the best of my knowledge, she's doing well. For that I'm glad.


the absence of meaningful legislation at Stormont, people


Brian Hollywood reports on how vulnerable pensioners in Northern Ireland are being conned out of their savings.

Download Subtitles