Betrayal in the blood

Just who had taken my mum's money?

Published by: Sarah Veness
Published on: 14 June 2012

The removal van door slammed shut. I turned to my sister Sandra who had tears in her eyes.
‘Come on,' I smiled. ‘Carlisle's not that far away.' Being 10 years older than her, I'd always been the protective big sister.
‘I know,' she sighed. ‘I'll just miss you.'
But my husband Ron and me couldn't stay in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, any more. A year earlier, we'd lost our eldest son James, 25, to Hodgkin's lymphoma.
When Ron's work had moved to Carlisle, 300 miles away, we'd taken the chance of a fresh start.
Leaving Sandra and our mum Peggy behind was devastating, though. Mum was clutching my hand as if her life depended on it.
‘I know I can rely on Sandra to look after you,' I smiled, hugging her tight. Sandra nodded. But it'd been just the three of us ever since she was born - Mum and Dad had split by then. Now our team was being broken up for the first time ever.
As I climbed into the car, I was overwhelmed with memories. Like the time we'd all been making pastry, when Sandra was four. ‘This bit's really hard,' I'd groaned as I'd rubbed the flour.
‘I'm not surprised, that's my little finger,' Mum had grinned. We still giggled about it now, and it put a smile on my face all the way to our new home.
Over the next four years, Mum would often catch the train to us, and I'd visit her and Sandra, too. But I started to notice how she seemed forgetful lately.
‘I saw Sandra yesterday,' she told me. ‘You've already told me,' I said, kindly.
‘Oh, have I?' she smiled. Yes, she was 79, but she'd always been very alert.
In fact, she'd carried on working as a nursery teacher into her seventies, she'd loved it so much. Now, though, she seemed a far cry from that confident woman.
Worried, I rang Sandra. ‘Do you think Mum should have an Alzheimer's test?' I asked.
‘I'll arrange it,' she said, concerned. But they never made it to the GP. It was too foggy to drive, and Mum refused to go.
Still, I knew if Sandra - who saw Mum almost weekly - wasn't that worried, it couldn't be anything serious.
When Mum turned 80, we held a party for her in the communal lounge at her flats. It was such a lovely day, and Mum looked really well.
‘Did you have a nice party?' I asked her the next day.
‘Oh, yes,' she smiled. ‘Karen and John were there.'
‘I know, I was there,' I said softly.
‘Were you?' Her words chilled me to the bone. So I begged Sandra to take her to the doctor's.
A week later, she called me. ‘The GP says Mum's fine,' she told me.
‘Really?' I asked, surprised. Maybe I'd got it wrong. But still Mum kept forgetting the odd thing, repeating herself.
‘It's old age,' Ron assured me.
Months later, though, Mum called in tears. ‘I've forgotten to pay my rent,' she sobbed.
‘Don't worry,' I reassured her. Luckily, when I told Sandra, she put her bills on direct debit. ‘Thanks - I'm so glad you're there to help.'
It made me feel loads better - that, and the fact that doctors were looking again at Mum.
Within months, there was another disaster, though. Mum's phone was cut off! Once again, I was on the phone to my sis. ‘There must be something wrong with the direct debit,' she said. ‘I'll ring the bank.'
At the same time, Mum was diagnosed with dementia, so we arranged for carers to look after her. But then their bill wasn't paid - along with her council tax.
I began to get suspicious. ‘That's three things Sandra said she'd sorted,' I worried to Ron. ‘This can't carry on...'
So I voiced my suspicions to Mum's social worker. ‘Do you know how much money she had in her account?' she asked.
Well, I knew she'd received £28,000 when our dad had died. She was left his police pension and, as far as I knew, she'd never spent it, so... ‘Between £20,000 and £30,000,' I estimated.
‘Okay,' she said. ‘We'll inform the police.'
Police? That sounded so serious. If Sandra was guilty of anything, it was just promising to do stuff then not bothering.
Still, the money was going somewhere. Maybe someone else was doing something dodgy. So I agreed to an investigation.
Just weeks later, the caretaker from Mum's flat phoned. ‘Umm, Sandra's clearing out your mum's flat, says she's moving in with her,' she explained. ‘Her clothes are going to charity shops.'
‘What?!' I spluttered. Sandra had mentioned Mum was staying with her for the holidays, not permanently. Why hadn't she consulted me? Mum seemed happy in her little flat.
Suddenly, I felt on edge talking to my own sister. Suspicions stopped me from sleeping.
When Sandra told me a couple of months later that Mum was going into a home, I felt relieved.
Then I got a call from a social worker. ‘There's no money left in your mum's account,' she said. ‘Her care home fees are owing.'
‘Where's it all gone?' I cried.
‘Her account's been closed, and her pension is being paid into an account with Sandra named as one of the cardholders.'
Phone dropping from my hands, I turned to Ron. ‘How could she do this?' I wept. ‘She's betrayed our own mother.'
Sandra was arrested and, in February, she pleaded guilty to fraud at Amersham Law Courts. I was there with Ron, 51, and our daughter Anne, 29.
Watching Sandra in the dock, I couldn't believe this was the same little sister I'd been so proud of when she'd been born.Now she couldn't meet my eye.
I heard how she'd spent £8,814.67 of our mum's hard- earned money in John Lewis and various supermarkets. Where the rest of the money went, goodness only knows. Anything that went out of Mum's account before she was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 couldn't be counted, so we'll never know exactly how much she took.
The worst part was when Sandra, 50, tried to blame a ‘difficult upbringing' for what she'd done. We'd had the best childhood! She'd even declared herself bankrupt, so there was no way we could recover the lost money from her for Mum.
It was bittersweet relief when she was given a three-month jail sentence suspended for 15 months, ordered to pay a confiscation order of £50, and given 12 months probation.
Now I dread bumping into Sandra at Mum's care home. Yes, despite everything, she still visits her. Mum's dementia means she has no idea what her daughter's done - the only blessing in this nightmare.
Linda Norris, 60, Carlisle, Cumbria