Service User Voice: The softest of targets

A while ago, I discovered that one of my personal assistants had been “borrowing” my ATM card. While I was asleep, she would sneak out of the house to the cash machine, taking hundreds of pounds from my bank account to fund her drug habit.

Eventually she was successfully prosecuted and, when I told the other service users she had worked for, I found out that she had been stealing from them as well. One man, who has an acquired brain injury – let’s call him John – decided to carry on seeing her, even though his other carers and the staff of his sheltered accommodation warned him against this.

Even though the sheltered accommodation had a front door accessible only with the right key code, and each flat had a lockable door, none of this protected the residents from this woman and her associates because John had given her the key code and a key to his front door, which also happened to open the front doors of the other residents. Over the next year, residents reported thefts of cash, adding up to thousands of pounds. His friends discovered that John had lost even more money to her in the same time.

The staff of the sheltered accommodation said that they couldn’t change the key code, because this would confuse the residents. They said that they couldn’t stop the woman entering the premises, because she had been invited in. The police said that they couldn’t prosecute because the victims would make poor witnesses in court, meaning little chance of a conviction.

This criminal realised that there were easy pickings to be had among disabled people, and targeted other sheltered accommodation in the area she and her friends would barge into people’s flats, take their money and run, before the victims could react. Only when the police realised that the thefts were connected did they try to catch her.

Why didn’t anyone attempt to stop any of this happening at the start? Even if John decided put himself at risk, why weren’t his neighbours adequately protected – if “sheltered” doesn’t mean “protected”, then what does it mean? The local police force is part of the local Vulnerable Adults Protection Scheme – does their involvement extend only as far as it helps their conviction rates? Don’t the police have a duty to prevent crime, as well as convict criminals?

Simon Heng is a wheelchair user and is involved in user-led organisations

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