Daylight Robbery Spotlight


Daylight Robbery

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


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

:00:09.:00:15.

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

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

:00:22.:00:28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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succeeded in stealing the entire life savings of a vulnerable

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

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

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:01:46.:02:08.

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

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raised complex questions about how we treat vulnerable older people.

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

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calculating criminals. They appeared a kind couple, willing to

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

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

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

:02:40.:02:50.
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the Front Street, arriving in his taxi. A newspaper, a pint of milk.

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

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

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

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

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remembered fondly by another neighbour. In her heyday, always

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clearly she had neighbours concerned for her welfare, so how

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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apparent, both Colleen and Seamus McPolin recognised it as an

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opportunity to steal money. Spotlight has access to the police

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

:07:50.:08:00.
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Mel did not keep in touch with her extended family. After her husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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else, the couple became indispensable to Mel and took her

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

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

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

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

:09:29.:09:39.
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should call as regularly as she did? -- Colleen. They set about

:09:43.:09:53.
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taking her money. This CCTV shows them queuing up to take money. Mel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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suspicious activity, especially with older customers. My manager

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

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another lady took over the telephone and described what there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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confused victim. Researchers estimate in Northern Ireland are

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

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

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

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

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

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interests. In his police interviews, Seamus tried to convince

:13:06.:13:16.
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investigators that he was only Seamus said he never intended to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotlight has learnt that there had already been substantial amounts of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:17:12.:17:22.
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police interviews, Seamus played However, when officers questioned

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Colleen, she contradicted her husband. Over the three swer

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

:17:39.:17:49.
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They claimed to be her children, but did they treat her like a

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

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

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have brought this condition to the attention of medical professionals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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bank accounts were frozen and her solicitor was given official

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

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

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

:20:09.:20:15.

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

:20:15.:20:21.

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

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

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even identify money. Anyone who would ask someone with these

:20:28.:20:34.

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

:20:34.:20:44.
:20:44.:20:44.

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

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

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

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

:21:03.:21:09.

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

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

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

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

:21:28.:21:34.

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

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

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spot and often goes unreported. Financial abuse in particular is

:21:44.:21:48.

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

:21:48.:21:52.

this about people hiding people from the authorities in order to

:21:52.:21:59.

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

:21:59.:22:03.

is frustrated by the level of support and protection that people

:22:03.:22:08.

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

:22:08.:22:13.

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

:22:13.:22:16.

in Northern Ireland currently protects people as vulnerable as

:22:16.:22:20.

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

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

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

:22:34.:22:37.

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

:22:37.:22:42.

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

:22:42.:22:45.

legislation will be introduced. the absence of legislation there is

:22:45.:22:48.

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

:22:49.:22:54.

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

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

:22:59.:23:02.

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

:23:02.:23:07.

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

:23:07.:23:10.

investigation also uncovered that ten months before their arrest,

:23:11.:23:15.

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

:23:15.:23:24.

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

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

:23:30.:23:34.

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

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

:23:39.:23:42.

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

:23:42.:23:47.

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

:23:47.:23:49.

their conservatory. On that occasion they claimed the money was

:23:49.:23:53.

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

:23:53.:24:02.

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

:24:02.:24:12.
:24:12.:24:41.

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

:24:41.:24:44.

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

:24:44.:24:50.

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

:24:50.:24:55.

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

:24:55.:25:01.

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

:25:01.:25:06.

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

:25:06.:25:10.

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

:25:10.:25:15.

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

:25:15.:25:21.

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

:25:21.:25:26.

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

:25:26.:25:31.

this into account and they avoided jail, receiving a suspended

:25:31.:25:35.

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

:25:35.:25:45.
:25:45.:25:45.

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

:25:46.:25:51.

neighbours and a local MLA believe the sentence should have been

:25:51.:25:57.

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

:25:57.:26:01.

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

:26:01.:26:08.

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

:26:08.:26:14.

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

:26:14.:26:22.

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

:26:22.:26:25.

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

:26:25.:26:30.

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

:26:30.:26:37.

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

:26:37.:26:43.

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

:26:43.:26:53.
:26:53.:27:00.

bank accounts were frozen and her solicitor was given official right

:27:00.:27:06.

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

:27:06.:27:14.

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

:27:14.:27:19.

police suggest that the polyethelene were sheltering her

:27:19.:27:25.

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

:27:25.:27:31.

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

:27:31.:27:35.

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

:27:35.:27:38.

have prevented her getting worse. Her condition and situation could

:27:38.:27:43.

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

:27:43.:27:48.

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

:27:48.:27:54.

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

:27:54.:27:58.

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

:27:58.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:08.

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

:28:08.:28:11.

the absence of meaningful legislation at Stormont, people

:28:11.:28:14.

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


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