Why elder financial abuse is rarely prosecuted in the UK | Observations of an ex

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This topic contains 1 reply, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Action on Elder Abuse 1 month ago.

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    Paul Smith

    FACT: the police service within the UK lacks the wherewithal to investigate cases of elder financial abuse!But why?

    With recent experience as an investigation coordinator working within a County Police Force Safeguarding Unit, I had a daily struggle to compete against the fluid demands of the service. I and fellow supervisors had to bid for resources every working day. I did feel that I was fighting a losing battle with the executive. My frustrations were compounded when I often saw very keen detectives being pulled from pillar to post and not given the investigatory time or supervisory support to spend on often very complex scenarios. I frequently found that at the first sign of resistance investigations were shelved by more senior detectives as these officers failed to recognise the gravity of the situation and the impact upon the victim. Which could in some circumstances become fatal. One Detective Chief Inspector actually questioned why I was committing so much time dealing with elder financial abuse when this area of criminality (fraud) was not a Force Priority. This officer headed the unit that oversaw the investigation of adult protection matters. Clearly, he could not see the Risk and Harm and after effects of elder financial abuse. I fear that this very naive sentiment may transcend to the most senior officers on a national level.

    As a coordinator, given the volume of daily safeguarding referrals of all types, there was only so much time that I could dedicate to each investigation having a County wide responsibility for adult safeguarding matters. Of course with limited time and resources, I often had no choice but dedicate my own personal time to at least conduct the initial evidence gathering; not a healthy position to be in but something that I and a number of colleagues had to resort to. I liken my action to that of the little dutch boy in Dr Boli’s fable, The Little Dutch Boy Who Saved Holland. This famous story refers to a boy who stuck his finger in a leak in a dike, but then couldn’t move for fear of a flood. The moral of the story is that each police officer tries to stop ‘the leak’ through voluntary self-regulation, therefore as per Boli’s fable, there is no need for expensive government action. The police are very good at stopping the wheel from falling off really to their own detriment!

    In my view and certainly, most of my former colleague’s Government must take more responsibility! The police service now has too few members to investigate too much criminality, albeit there is no question that the enthusiasm remains resolute I am glad to say. However, the knock on effect is that the more experienced officers are leaving the service in their droves, unable to deal with the frustrations of not being able to provide an adequate service for their practitioners. They are fed up of being the little Dutch boy!

    So what is the way forward:

    Until the government redresses the balance (and actually beyond that point), the police service needs a ‘leg up’ from experts, but this comes at a cost.

    Many forces are travelling, quite rightly, down the path of a Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). This is a fantastic idea where resources are shared and instant decision making can take place as multi-agency practitioners are co-located. However without the support of experts very little will change in the ability to bring offenders to justice.

    Enhanced Multi-Disciplinary Teams

    In other parts of the globe (particularly the US) multi-agency practitioners are supported by experts in their field.

    These experts meet on a regular basis at a ‘Forensic Centre’ and review referrals made to them for their joint expertise. The meetings are referred to as Enhanced Multi-Disciplinary Team Meetings

    Regular attendees in addition to the standing members from health, social care and the police, are the likes of:

    Forensic Accountants

    Examples of cases where the Forensic Accountant report has been used include:

    Guardianship proceedings
    Criminal proceedings
    Civil proceedings
    The provision of information to a victim regarding exploitation
    Most if not all of these specialist areas are well beyond the capability of specialist police officers. In my experience forensic accountants are brought to the table often by a defence team, causing prosecutors to find their own expert. A forensic accountant advisor can guide an investigation from the outset, leading hopefully to an early plea from a defendant, therefore reducing the costs for all parties. A win, win situation in my view.

    Geriatric Psychiatrist

    These consultants provide expert information regarding medical and mental health concerns. In the US they often act as liaison between the E-MDT and medical and mental health professionals.

    Although the health service can provide access to these experts, it is often difficult to get them to meetings due to a high demand placed upon their services by the NHS. Generally, these experts are not available to act as a witness in a criminal trial. The police would then need to be sourced an expert from elsewhere. This is generally achieved by referral to the National Crime and Operations Faculty. This is a national resource managed by the National Crime Agency. Part of the cost in contracting this expert would be in briefing them.

    Using an expert at the onset of an investigation can guide the course of an investigation/enquiry and above all be best placed to support the victim, making recommendations in terms of communication aids.

    Prosecutors

    In other countries, District Attorneys act as a liaison between the E-MDT and the legal system. They provide pertinent information regarding laws relating to financial exploitation and/or elder abuse. They make recommendations on the prosecution of cases involving criminal activity, as appropriate.

    Although I was promised some years ago by a Senior Crown Prosecutor that he would ensure that additional training would be provided to a cadre of specialist Crown Prosecutors, this never happened. In this particular CPS Region, we have specialist lawyers dealing with child protection matters but no adult equivalent?

    Using my experience, I can see that useful ad-hoc members for an E-MDT could include:

    Representatives from financial Institutions
    Trading Standards officers
    DWP Investigators
    Guardianship/Attorneyship legal specialists
    Financial Advisors
    So how are these teams financed?

    Abroad, teams are generally financed by central government grants be made directly to Adult Protective Services (APS). These grants allow APS to employ coordinators and pay for access to expert advisors. In the USA this has been brought about by Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative (EJI)

    So in the UK, with finite resourcing set aside for policing, health services and social care, a Forensic Centre has to be the way forward but Government will need to dig deeper in their pockets for this to work as it will never happen without central funding.

    What are the benefits?

    Considerable academic research has indicated that there are tangible benefits from dealing with complex elder abuse matters in this way.

    Teams can offer fairly obvious benefits to professionals, clients, and communities alike. They can help individual service provider by resolving difficult cases. The team review process has been credited with enhancing service coordination by clarifying agencies’ policies, procedures, and roles and by identifying service gaps and breakdowns in coordination or communication. Of course, there will naturally be an enhancement of members’ professional skills and knowledge, by the provision of a forum for learning used to formulate strategies for a multi-discipline benefit.

    Next steps….

    I fully support the campaign being driven by Gary Fitzgerald of Action on Elder Abuse, suggesting that Elder Abuse should be recognised as a Hate Crime. However, until such time as the police service, its partners and the judiciary put some resources into dealing with the problem, things won’t change, no matter how stiff the penalties may be. However, there is a way forward …….

    I would really love to see the integration of the enhanced multidisciplinary teams in the UK, but I can not do this alone!

    I would like to hear from anyone who can support me in this quest.

    I have the skills, knowledge, experience, but sadly lack the resources, but willing to set aside my own time to make this happen. If I couldn’t do this from within the police I want to be able to make it happen from outside.

    I, therefore, seek the support of like minded individuals, charities and journalists who can help me to make this happen and most importantly a Safeguarding Adult Board willing to get behind this as a pilot project. I have a long list of tasks that need to be completed but above all else, I need some impetus to be able to start to lobby government.

    If you are in a position to lend that support then I would love to hear from you via any of my social media channels or directly by email: paul@paulsmithconsultancy.com

    Together we can make a difference to the lives of others!

  • #16927 Reply

    Thank you for such an insightful and thought-provoking post Paul. We will make contact with you directly soon.

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