A grieving son claims nearly $20,000 of jewellery was stolen from his dead mother.
Malvina Major rest home in Johnsonville has apologised to Philippa Gyles' son Stan for the "significant loss" of jewellery, described as the largest in its parent company's 25 years of aged care.
A caregiver told police she saw Mrs Gyles wearing the jewels the day she died. Police say numerous people had "unimpeded" access to her room and it remains a mystery.
"Police were unable to prove who was responsible for the alleged theft," a police statement said.
Parent company Ryman Healthcare sent Mr Gyles a $250 cheque to cover the standard insurance excess as a "goodwill gesture", which he refused.
However, the company does not accept a theft took place and is refusing financial liability. It also disputes claims that it failed in its duty of care to protect its former patient as she lay on her deathbed.
"I think stealing from the dead is the most despicable, lowest form of endeavour," Mr Gyles said.
Mrs Gyles died of heart failure on December 16 last year, a month before her 90th birthday. She had been a resident at the 120-bed rest home since 2007.
The pensioner and widow had owned a 13-piece collection of jewellery valued in 1980 at $35,000 in today's money.
Mr Gyles is unsure what jewellery his mother still possessed when she died. But he says a photo taken at Malvina Major shows her wearing at least five missing items of precious metals and stones, including a gold bracelet, necklace and several rings.
But, after rushing back from Australia, Mr Gyles discovered only a pair of earrings on her body. The other jewellery in the photo - estimated to be worth $18,700 but uninsured - was missing, Mr Gyles said, as was a toilet bag containing cosmetics.
He last visited his mother in October and remembered her wearing other jewellery then.
The valuable heirlooms had great sentimental value.
Mr Gyles brought in lawyers and contacted police. But after an extensive inquiry they were unable to identify any culprit.
In a February email to Mr Gyles, Senior Constable Stu Rowe said: "It has become apparent from talking to staff that anyone, members of the public or any other of the staff that work in the complex, has access to most places without any checks. With this current system it is fraught with possibilities."
In a statement yesterday, Mr Rowe said that, before her death, Mrs Gyles was often in a non-responsive state. But police could not determine when she was last seen wearing her jewellery.
Gold Buyers NZ had been alerted to the missing valuables and the police file remained open pending new information.
Mr Gyles accepted the jewellery should have been insured, but said that did not free the rest home from liability. He intended to sue for negligence.
"The issue is not about the jewellery being insured.
"The issue is the protocols and procedures that weren't implemented to ensure the dignity of the dying person was maintained, thus nullifying the opportunity to steal the jewellery."
Ryman chief executive Simon Challies said it was an unfortunate case.
There were discrepancies between what was alleged to have gone missing and what the rest home's records showed had been in Mrs Gyles' possession.
"There was no evidence to substantiate the claim that a theft took place."
Mr Challies also denied any negligence and said residents were advised to insure valuables and not keep them on site. Rooms were not locked and the company strived to maintain a "homelike environment".
"We are astounded that Mr Gyles chose to leave $35,000 worth of jewellery in his mother's possession, against our advice, and did not take steps to arrange insurance as recommended by us.
"If we felt in this, or any other case, that there was a clear claim and that we had contributed to the loss then we would accept responsibility."
Age Concern said it was insulting and disrespectful to insist an older person leave jewellery such as wedding and engagement rings in the care of relatives.
- The Dominion Post