Edith - thefts by care home employee from elderly residents - Theft Act 1968
Edith was the manager of a care home near Newcastle. She was responsible not only for the care of the residents but also for custody of their money, which was kept in her office under an arrangement referred to as "residents' purses". However the proprietors, rather than Edith, were responsible for the accounting records and financial management of the care home.
Edith became close to many of the elderly residents in the home, some of whom suffered from senile dementia. She accompanied one resident, Martin, to his branch of the Newcastle Building Society where, at her suggestion, he drew a cheque from his savings account in favour of Acme Used Car Co which Edith then used to purchase a car for herself.
A few months later Martin died and when his family discovered that most of his savings had been spent, and in particular learned about the cheque to Acme Used Car Co, they alleged that Edith had taken advantage of Martin's mental weakness to steal from him.
Edith accepted that she had told Martin that the cheque was required in payment of his care home fees but asserted that:-(i) she had been told by the proprietors that Martin did owe fees to the care home,
(ii) Edith was herself owed money by the care home, and
(iii) the proprietors had suggested that to Edith that she should obtain a cheque from Martin's building society account so that the amount of the cheque could be deducted from both the amount Martin owed to the care home and the amount the care home owed to Edith.The proprietors of the care home were in dispute with Edith regarding the sums due to her, and this dispute had led to civil litigation which was ongoing. The proprietors could not confirm that they had made any arrangement with Edith regarding Martin's outstanding fees.
There were also other allegations of thefts by Edith from residents' cash held under the "residents' purses" arrangements in the care home office.
We were instructed by the defence to critically examine the accounting records of the care home in respect of fees owed by Martin and sums due to Edith, and to comment upon the "residents' purses" arrangements.
We formed the opinion that there were serious deficiencies in the accounting records of the care home in respect of fee income, purchases, wages and petty cash.
There were no accounting records which identified fees charged to every resident. Invoices for fees due were not issued unless a resident, or a person responsible for paying the resident's fees (such as a local authority), specifically requested them. Most residents apparently did not request invoices.
Essentially the care home's principal records of fees were the bank statements and paying-in books. Since a significant proportion of fees appeared to be received in cash the amounts actually received from many of the individual residents (including Martin) could not be ascertained. There was therefore no basis of determining whether these residents had over-paid, under-paid or correctly paid the fees due from them.
It appeared to be the case that some cash received in respect of fees was used to make purchases or fund petty cash expenditure for the care home (and so was never banked). This fee income was therefore not reflected at all in the accounting records of the care home.
Wages cheques had been issued to Edith with irregular frequency and these could not always be agreed to the care home's PAYE records. The accountants acting for the care home had written to the proprietors expressing their concern that the wages records were "very messy and payments were unclear".
It was not possible to reliably determine what sums, if any, were owed to Edith by the care home.
The records of "residents' purses" were not made available to us, but the reports of the local authority Inspection Unit indicated that records of "residents' purses" and control of the monies in them were also inadequate. The Inspection Unit reported that monies from "residents' purses" were routinely used, by a variety of staff, to meet petty cash expenditure of the home, and monies belonging to one resident would frequently be used for the benefit of another resident in an informal manner. The Inspection Unit described the accounting records for the "residents' purses" as "misleading".
In short, in our opinion, the accounting records were not adequate to establish whether or not Martin had owed fees to the home, or whether or not the home had owed money to Edith, or whether the alleged thefts from "residents' purses" had taken place.
When the matter came to trial, with the agreement of the prosecution, Edith was formally acquitted of certain allegations whilst the remaining allegations were allowed to 'lie on the file'. As a result the allegations were not put before a jury and Edith was not convicted of any offence.