Neighbours shocked as frail Vera is found dead – grim discovery days after social workers held talks

An elderly woman was found dead in her home just days after social workers and neighbours held emergency talks to discuss their worries about her welfare.

Neighbours said last night they were shocked that nothing could be done to help frail Vera Hamilton in one of the coldest winters on record.

Local authority officials insisted that council staff and other agencies had taken “various steps” to try to assist the 85-year-old, but could not force people to give up their independence.

Police forced open the door of the pensioner’s house in Aberdeenshire after worried residents who had been unable to contact her spotted her lying in a bedroom.

Neighbour Peter Bailey said he was shocked by the conditions Mrs Hamilton had been living in.

The 73-year-old added: “There was no adequate heating and only one light bulb in the house was working, and there were years of accumulated bags of rubbish cluttering the rooms.

“We contacted the council’s social services people on several occasions.

“It defies belief that such a situation could be allowed to happen, and a lonely pensioner be just left to die in extreme weather conditions.

“No matter that she wouldn’t accept help, she needed it.

“It can’t be acceptable to simply give up on a person in such physical condition just because they say no to help.”

Widower Mr Bailey said Mrs Hamilton had lived in the Ness Circle area of Ellon for about two decades, but had become a recluse over the past two years and would let no one into her home.

Neighbours said Aberdeenshire Council’s adult protection team met in the town to discuss her case on her birthday, December 6, and claimed no action followed as Arctic weather hit the north-east.

Locals believe Mrs Hamilton – whose only known relatives were cousins in Canada – died during the 10 days before her body was found on December 28.

Ness Circle resident Kathleen Hadden said her elderly neighbour had moved to Ellon from Aberdeen.

She said: “She was dignified and proud. Vera was a very intelligent lady with a good sense of humour.

“I got her shopping during the snow, but as soon as it (the snow) went she wanted to do it herself.

“She didn’t let anyone into her house, but I feel more could have been in done in maybe persuading her to go into a nursing home for a few weeks until the snow went away.”

Ellon and District councillor Rob Merson praised residents for their efforts to help Mrs Hamilton and said he understood their shock and sadness.

He said: “It is clearly very distressing for neighbours, but it is difficult for a local authority to deal with such a situation without being intrusive.

“There can certainly be a health and safety obligation and I will be taking the matter up with social services to find out just what the circumstances were.

“It is very much to their credit that people in Ellon have been extremely diligent in trying to look after their neighbour.

“But if someone does choose to live a reclusive life then we have to respect their right to do so.”

Grampian Police confirmed that officers had forced their way into a property at Ness Circle in Ellon on December 28 after being contacted by neighbours, and a body had been removed from the house.

A spokesman could not give the cause of death, but said there appeared to be no suspicious circumstances.

An Aberdeenshire Council spokeswoman said: “We acknowledge, with regret, this sad death. Social work services took various steps throughout 2010, along with health professionals and neighbours, to understand the individual’s needs and to offer her support and assistance.”

The spokeswoman said the council could not force people to accept help.

She added: “Many older people greatly value and defend their personal privacy.”