A frail, elderly man spent two days in the witness box - a defibrillator sitting close by on a court bench - giving evidence against his trusted daughter who cleaned out his bank account.
His bills unpaid, 75-year-old Ron Warren was forced to leave his retirement apartment in New Plymouth where he thought he would spend his last days.
Elder abuse support groups and police said yesterday such prosecutions are rarely seen in the courts.
But they are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg of similar offending perpetrated by children taking advantage of their vulnerable elderly parents.
Aged parents are often reluctant to report their children to police.
After a day-and-a-half of evidence in a defended hearing in New Plymouth District Court, Mr Warren's daughter Michelle Tracey Murphy, 41, yesterday pleaded guilty to eight representative charges.
She admitted helping herself to $20,000 from her father's bank account over an eight-month period.
At the request of police prosecutor Sergeant Lewis Sutton, Judge Max Courtney withdrew another 120 charges - totalling $40,000.
The court was told Murphy's father had given his daughter his cashflow card so she could pay his bills after his home was sold and he shifted into a leased retirement apartment with his aged cat.
There was now nothing left apart from his superannuation.
He is now living in a single room in another rest home and has so far been unable to sell the lease on the retirement apartment.
Defence lawyer Patrick Mooney said father and daughter embraced outside the courtroom before sentencing and the healing process had now begun.
He was hopeful the two could now attend a restorative justice process where they could each express their views.
In sentencing, Judge Courtney told Murphy her offending was particularly grave, given the breach of trust and effect on her father, who was very upset his daughter, in whom he had so much faith and trust, had behaved this way.
"You have completely and utterly abrogated any trust. It is a pity your father had to go through the process of giving evidence," Judge Courtney said.
Downstream effects would be quite significant for her father, the judge told Murphy.
Any penalty was required to hold her accountable, promote in her a sense of responsibility, denounce what she had done and deter others from doing the same.
The start point was one of prison. However she had few previous relevant convictions apart from shoplifting in 2009.
In sentencing her to 300 hours community work, the judge said he would make no order for reparation because Murphy, who was on a sickness benefit, had no ability to pay.
But he suggested she could in some way assist her father in future thereby repaying him in some way.
Outside court, Detective Brendan Ngata, of New Plymouth CIB, said such cases of elder abuse rarely came before the courts. Aged parents did not want to prosecute their children in whom they put their love and trust.
"But they are as vulnerable as children."
In Mr Warren's case, he had only discovered his daughter was stealing from him when his rest home fees were not being paid.
"By the time we spoke to him he was $8000 in arrears."
He had initially been supported by a Te Hauora Pou Heretaunga elder protection service advocate. They accompanied him to the bank where he discovered his account had been cleaned out.
Murphy had said she would pay the money back but she did not and as a last resort he had gone to police.
His second daughter had Downs syndrome and he was concerned there would now be nothing left for her support when he was gone.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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