Rest-home worker charged with stealing jewellery

A Lower Hutt rest-home worker has been arrested in connection with a string of alleged jewellery thefts from elderly residents in his care.

Police say the offending happened at Shona McFarlane retirement village in Avalon and involved gold bracelets and rings.

The rest home engaged private investigators to help identify the offender after allegations first emerged.

Juan Paulo Castro Villanueva, 26, was arrested last week and charged with one count of theft by a person in a special relationship.

He is due to appear in Lower Hutt District Court later this month to face further charges.

Asked if there were likely to be more victims or other offenders, Inspector Shane Cotter said: "The police are aware of other missing jewellery from Shona McFarlane that is not connected to this person."

The Dominion Post reported on Saturday that Stan Gyles claimed $20,000 of jewellery was swiped from his late mother while she was a resident in Malvina Major rest home in Johnsonville last year.

Police investigated but could not identify a culprit and said numerous people had "unimpeded" access to 89-year-old Philippa Gyles' room.

Both homes are owned by Ryman Healthcare, which operates 25 retirement villages nationwide, housing more than 6000 residents.

The company warns residents to insure jewellery and says it is not responsible for personal valuables.

The offending at Shona McFarlane is alleged to have happened between March 2010 and last week.

Mr Cotter said police knew of four victims whose jewellery, including rings and bracelets, had been stolen.

He was unsure of the stolen property's estimated value, but said some of the missing jewellery had been recovered.

Investigations by The Dominion Post reveal that Ryman had been aware of theft allegations involving missing jewellery at Shona McFarlane since at least January last year.

Ryman's regional manager, Susan Bowness, wrote to another complainant on February 4, 2011, saying the rest-home's manager had taken police advice "in regards to residents' personal belongings that have gone missing".

Ryman chief executive Simon Challies said last night that the alleged offending by a staff member was extremely disappointing.

Villanueva had worked for the company for 18 months but his employment ended in March this year.

The company contacted police when the theft allegations emerged and was pleased an arrest had finally been made.

When items went missing, there was "not necessarily a presumption of theft", he said.

"We do everything in our power to try to find out whether something's gone missing or been given to family.

"If we're unsure, we'll take steps to make sure we haven't got someone on staff we can't trust. It's very important for us that our residents feel safe and well cared for."

Ryman would contact the families and consider compensating residents for any unrecovered jewellery.

Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor said all rest-home workers were subject to police vetting. The number of thefts was small, given the large numbers in aged care.

Residents were entirely responsible for personal valuables and were warned not to keep expensive jewellery in their rooms.

"It's not about escaping liability. It's about having a protocol system that works."

Contact Lane Nichols
Metro chief reporter

The Dominion Post