Woman's rings stolen from her fingers - family

LANE NICHOLS
METRO CHIEF REPORTER
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012
Alma Cleland
Alma Cleland's rings went missing while she was in Shona McFarlane Hospital in Lower Hutt.
Alma Cleland
Alma Cleland's daughter Sylvia Woodbury.

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A grieving family say their 93-year-old mother's three gold rings were stolen from her fingers while she was in a Lower Hutt rest home.

When asked what had happened to her jewellery, Alma Cleland told her daughter: "Rings can come off with soap and water", and the "handyman" was going to fix them.

The alleged theft happened at Shona McFarlane retirement village in Avalon. A former worker was arrested last week and charged with stealing jewellery - although the charge does not relate to Mrs Cleland's missing rings.

Daughter Sylvia Woodbury lodged a complaint with police in November 2010 after noticing Mrs Cleland's rings were missing from her hand.

Mrs Cleland was in hospital care at Shona McFarlane but the family moved her and she died several months later in another home.

Her uninsured rings included a gold wedding band, an eternity ring and solitaire diamond engagement ring with shoulder diamonds. Although the family are unsure of the rings' value, they were bequeathed to Mrs Woodbury in her mother's will and held great sentimental value.

None of the family can recall Mrs Cleland ever removing her rings, and she often talked about them being missing right up until she died.

"It's the lowest of the low to take them off somebody's fingers," Mrs Woodbury said.

"When we reported them missing, [the manager] just said, ‘Well, you understand we're not responsible'.

"A lot of ladies there were dripping in jewels. I just think [the home] should have taken better precautions."

Mrs Woodbury said a jewellery box also went missing from her mother's room in late 2010, along with clothes and a pillow.

Lower Hutt police arrested a 26-year-old former Shona McFarlane rest-home worker last week in connection with alleged jewellery thefts at the home.

Juan Paulo Castro Villanueva, 26, was charged with one count of theft by a person in a special relationship. He is likely to face more charges when he appears in Lower Hutt District Court later this month.

Police say Villanueva is not facing charges over Mrs Cleland's missing jewellery.

"We can confirm this complaint was fully investigated by police at the time it was laid," Inspector Shane Cotter told The Dominion Post.

"However, no-one has been charged in relation to the alleged theft. If police receive any new information, it would be thoroughly investigated."

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The case follows claims by Stan Gyles that $20,000 of jewellery was stolen from his late mother while she was a resident in Malvina Major rest home in Johnsonville last year. Though police investigated, no-one was charged, and the home is refusing to accept liability.

Both homes are owned by Ryman Healthcare, a publicly listed company that runs 25 retirement villages caring for more than 6000 residents.

Ryman chief executive Simon Challies said the company was contacting families whose jewellery had gone missing, including Mrs Woodbury.

"Even though [police] didn't lay charges in respect of that, we're concerned that the theft charges relate to the same period."

Mr Challies did not believe there were systemic problems in the company's homes.

Contact Lane Nichols
Metro chief reporter
Email: lane.nichols@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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