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How financial abuse of vulnerable victims became a business model

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A number of years ago, I was approached by Merseyside Police to assist them in their investigation into the activities of David Barton, owner of Barton Park Nursing Home in Southport.  At the initial meeting, I had no idea I was getting involved in one of the most shocking cases of my 25 year forensic accounting career.

The nursing home targeted wealthy individuals offering top quality care, excursions in vintage and classic cars, a home furnished with antiques and was even building a spa for its residents.  Unsurprisingly the fees associated with this care and the added extras were eye wateringly expensive.

The allegations against Barton were serious and included:

  • Manipulating vulnerable residents into ‘investing’ in property and other assets;
  • Becoming sole power of attorney over residents’ affairs;
  • Persuading residents to make him the sole beneficiary of their wills;
  • Stealing assets from residents including a watch collection which was found under his bed and later sold for around £2 million;
  • Liquidating residents’ assets and then taking the cash;
  • Selling his two Rolls Royce cars to two elderly women for £500,00 each when their true value was £100,000 and £150,000; and
  • Charging for care and services which were never delivered including excursions for bed bound residents.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the case was the manner in which David Barton manipulated the residents.  He specifically targeted residents who had no children and/or little contact with any close family.  If close family members were involved he used various methods to stop them visiting including telling the family that the resident had asked them not to visit.  He also told residents that their existing financial advisers were stealing from them or giving them bad advice, leading them to depend upon Barton in managing their finances.

The worst case involved a couple called Katy and Gordon Willey.  Gordon had Alzheimer’s disease and began living at Barton Park when Katy joined him for what was supposed to be a short stay.  As they were a wealthy couple with no children they immediately became a target for Barton.  Katy believed in the power of crystals and psychics and so Barton employed two psychics to make spells to banish the Willey’s family from the home as their niece was raising concerns about their care.  Katy always intended to return to her own home but Barton was heard to tell her she would be at the mercy of her family who would declare her mentally incompetent or poison her.  He even accused the Willey’s gardener of being a paedophile when he raised concerns about them.

Barton charged the Willeys £1 million for just two years’ care, but this was not enough for him.  He devised a full life care package for them at a cost of £5.5 million.  However, Katy collapsed before signing the papers and he was found desperately trying to revive her.  Katy eventually died after Barton’s solicitors demanded that she transfer all of the money she possessed to her.  He then tried to claim £10 million from the estate.

Despite all of this, the family had to bring a case against Barton in order to have Gordon moved to another care home.

Barton was convicted of five fraud offences, three counts of theft, false accounting and transferring criminal property.  I was lucky enough to be in Court for the sentencing together with all of the police officers and the families of the victims and it is an experience I will never forget.  Sentencing Barton to 21 years imprisonment (later reduced to 17 years on appeal) the judge was unstinting in his comments including “I am struggling to remember anyone as dishonest as him, as morally bankrupt as him” and “You are a despicably greedy man, a hypocrite who claims you were caring for the residents”.  The judge also said he believed Barton had no remorse for his actions.

One of the most worrying parts of this case is the fact that complaints had been made against Barton for years with a number of families of living and deceased residents bringing legal actions against him for his financial abuse.  Barton had groomed the residents to the point where they were convinced he was their best friend.  One individual who was clearly a victim of Barton’s frauds refused to believe Barton had done anything wrong and would not co-operate with the police. 

As a result of this case there have been calls for the establishment of a regulator or supervisor to whom relatives can turn if they suspect relatives are being financially abused by those caring for them.  There are also calls to stop care home staff from holding power of attorney over residents’ affairs and for great supervision in cases where residents change their wills in favour of carers.  As far as I am aware, none of these proposals have been taken forward to date, leaving care home residents at the mercy of those who set out to benefit rather than care for them.

My role in this matter included providing a report and evidence in relation to the laundering of the funds arising from the sale of a number of very expensive cars by Barton.  I also provided a report in relation to the financial affairs of one of the care home staff, Rosemary Booth, who was also convicted of fraud and sentenced to 6 years imprisonment.  I remain proud to have been a part of such an important and heartbreaking case, it is certainly one I will never forget.


For further information or advice on a forensic accounting matter, please contact Director of Forensic Accounting, Liesel Annible on 07765 232564 or email liesel.annible@armstrongwatson.co.uk.

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The deadline for April 2021 claims is 14 May 2021, so please submit claims to jrs@armstrongwatson.co.uk.