500,000 Older People Are Victims Of Crime

Elderly victims of crime will be allowed to give evidence via video links from home, prosecutors said yesterday as it emerged that up to 500,000 older people a year could fall victim to abuse and neglect, bogus traders or street crime.

{mosimage}There is a huge under-reporting of crimes against older people, due to fear, embarrassment and a lack of access to trusted people to whom they can report their worries. One study, published this year, found that only 6% of elderly victims had reported abuse to the police.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was increasingly concerned about the abuse of society’s most frail and vulnerable, particularly by those in positions of trust. It said special measures such as video links between courts and the homes of victims, and the potential admissibility of hearsay evidence, could help to increase the number of successful prosecutions.

Prosecutors will also monitor offences for the first time, flagging up abuse and neglect against victims aged 65 or over and also those crimes aimed at older people due to their perceived vulnerability.

Yesterday Sir Ken MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions, said tackling such offences should be a priority. Introducing a public consultation on policy towards older people, he said he wanted it known that the CPS understood the serious implications of the crimes:

“We will work with police, health and social care agencies, voluntary and community organisations, not only to gather evidence but to support older people during a case. If there is any evidence that there is an aggravating element to an offence based on a victim’s age, we will draw it to the attention of the court. Safety and security and the right to live free from the fear of crime, arising from mistreatment or abuse, are fundamental rights and go to the core of older people’s sense of wellbeing.

“Feeling and being unsafe or ‘at risk’ has a significant negative impact on older people’s health … and can leave them isolated and unable to participate socially and economically in their community.”

The draft policy, backed by campaign groups including Action on Elder Abuse, Age Concern and Help the Aged, comes after several high-profile campaigns against elder abuse, particularly in care homes. Last month, at the launch of a helpline for victims in homes, the care minister, Ivan Lewis, said society should be as outraged by the mistreatment of elderly people as it was about child abuse.

The CPS said it would focus on abuse or neglect in situations of trust, involving family members, carers or paid workers, as well as on offences against older people because of their perceived vulnerability, including muggings, doorstep theft and rogue traders, and offences wholly or partly driven by hostility linked to age.

A study this year by King’s College London and the National Centre for Social Research showed that 350,000 people aged 66 and over living in private households had reported abuse or neglect over the past 12 months. Prosecutors said the figure was likely to be an underestimate.