A bereaved daughter has described the UK system for looking after the aged as “an open sewer that allows crime to come into care for the elderly”, after a carer who stole from her father in his own home walked free from court.
Theresa Stratton, 39, rifled through 74-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer David Skerritt’s wallet and stole £130, before allegedly leaving him with the words: “You have a lovely day, sweetheart.”
Mr Skerritt’s daughter Joanne Martinez told The Independent that after discovering what had happened, her frail father felt betrayed and terrified that associates of Stratton would come to his home and beat him up for having contacted the Police.
Miss Martinez, 47, said that within a month of discovering the crime on September 9 2015, her father had entered hospital. A month after that, she said, her father was designated as having zero mental capacity because of dementia that had not been evident prior to the theft.
He never returned to his bungalow in Rustington, West Sussex, and died of a chest infection on 9 September 2016, a year to the day after discovering the theft.
After Stratton, of Dorset Close, Littlehampton, West Sussex, was convicted of theft at Chichester Crown Court on March 1, Judge Christopher Parker QC told her she would “almost certainly” face a prison sentence.
But when the judge sentenced her on Friday, Stratton received only a 12-month suspended prison sentence and a 260-hour unpaid work order, allowing her to walk out of court without serving any time in jail.
The lack of an immediate jail sentence, said Miss Martinez, “Rocked my entire world. I just felt, ‘She’s won’."
Fighting tears, she added: “This is such a personal crime: we trusted her, and she robbed him blind in his own home. But she has got what she wanted. She’s had a slap on the wrist and is now walking around the community with a smile on her face.
“Where’s the justice in that?”
Hours after sentence was passed, Miss Martinez learned The Sun was alleging that staff at Caremark, the network for whom Stratton had worked in Sussex, had been performing online sex shows while supposedly working at a Caremark Wolverhampton area franchise office in Walsall, West Midlands.
“I threw up,” said Miss Martinez. “I was physically sick. I just can’t believe the state of this country and how it is treating its elderly. There are good carers – some of the local workers, like the head of Caremark in Worthing [West Sussex], do care and are mortified by what has happened to my father.
"But that doesn’t change the fact that the system is an open sewer that allows crime to come into care for the elderly.”
Her father, she said, had been “hilarious”, forever telling “Dad jokes”, and always loving.
“He would never let you down. He would drive out in his pyjamas to pick you up if he needed to. The little girl standing on her father’s feet as he does the dance moves: that was me and Dad, every Sunday lunchtime.”
An orphan brought up by the Salvation Army, Mr Skerritt had met his wife Patricia while he was working as an apprentice electrician in Wimbledon Park, south London, and she was a hairdresser in the salon two doors down.
They were, said Miss Martinez, devoted to each other from the moment of their first date, when she turned up wearing a woolly hat and he discovered – amid much laughter from both of them – that it was concealing green hair from a tinting experiment that had gone wrong.
They married in 1963 and were only parted when Patricia died of ovarian cancer aged 63 in 2006.
Miss Martinez said she had been immensely proud of her dad, who while working as a TV engineer for Radio Rentals installed televisions for the Royal Family, and in 1991 received a Royal Victorian Medal for service to the Queen.
After he began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, Miss Martinez would drive the 185 miles from her home in Snettisham, Norfolk, to her father’s South Coast bungalow every weekend.
The first carers who helped her father as he became housebound, incapable of routine tasks and in need of a frame for walking, were “lovely”, said Miss Martinez.
But unavoidable logistical problems with getting carers to give Mr Skerritt his medicines on time eventually meant a switch of companies to the Worthing branch of Caremark.
On August 19 2015, two days after Caremark took over, Stratton visited Mr Skerritt and stole from him.
The theft was discovered on September 9, after Mr Skerritt realised his money was missing. Miss Martinez saw Stratton stealing when she viewed the footage from CCTV cameras the family had installed as precaution in case her father fell and no-one could work out where he was.
“I was shocked,” said Miss Martinez. “I saw her telling him ‘You have a lovely day sweetheart’, after robbing him blind in his own house.
“Dad felt incensed, betrayed and terrified. He was frightened of her. After the Police were called, he told me ‘I don’t want some big beefy bloke she knows coming round and punching me in the face. I can’t defend myself.”
Despite her anger at those higher up the company’s national hierarchy, Miss Martinez stressed that managers at the local Caremark office in Worthing were “diligent, supportive, and traumatised by what had happened”.
They sacked Stratton on the spot, she added.
But Miss Martinez said her father was “shellshocked”.
She said: “He was a shell of himself because of the Parkinson’s anyway. The distress created another shell.
“It finished everything: his appetite, his sleeping, his ability to trust anyone
“He went into hospital on October 5 2015 and never went home. At the beginning of November, social services assessed him as having zero mental capacity through dementia.”
Before becoming distressed by the crime, said Miss Martinez, her father had exhibited no signs of dementia.
She moved him to a care home in Wells next the Sea, Norfolk, near her own house.
“We had a nice little time before he died,” said Miss Martinez. “I miss him so much, but because of what happened, I have never had the chance to grieve.”
Caremark operates as a national network of about 75 separate, independent franchised companies, and a spokesman for Caremark Worthing said they had no connection to any other franchises, including ones in the West Midlands.
Commenting on Stratton’s conviction, the Caremark Worthing spokesman said: “Caremark (Worthing) views the care and wellbeing of our clients as paramount, and we take any issues of alleged abuse of our clients extremely seriously.
“All our staff are vetted, DBS checked and trained in order to safeguard the vulnerable people we care for, and therefore this incident of theft by one of our care workers is highly regrettable. As soon as the theft was discovered we dismissed Ms Stratton.
“We continue to strive to provide a high standard of care to vulnerable people in our community through thorough training, support and supervision of all our staff.”
Responding to The Sun’s allegations, Kevin Lewis, the national Chief Executive of Caremark Ltd, said: “We are shocked at the alleged actions of two members of staff employed by the Wolverhampton franchisee. I have spoken to the owner to understand what has happened and what actions have been taken.
“At no time was the care of clients put at risk as the services provided by Caremark are delivered at the client's home. This incident appears to have taken place in an administrative office, but at this time a full investigation is being carried out to determine exactly what has happened.
“Obviously, we cannot discuss the details of the incident until our investigation has been completed. We will work fully with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regarding this incident.”
Chris Williams, owner of the Caremark franchise in Wolverhampton said: “I am shocked and surprised by this incident. This is clearly not the kind of behaviour we would tolerate in our business. I am undertaking a full investigation into the circumstances of the incident and we are currently speaking to all those involved.”