Frail woman abused for months

02:48, Apr 04 2014

Eight months of brutal abuse, including almost daily assaults, on a slight and frail elderly woman has brought a two-year three-month jail term.

"He was a bully," said the 73-year-old victim who was at the Christchurch District Court to see the jailing of Joseph Edward Whitehead.

Whitehead was jailed for the repeated assaults, and for conning the woman out of $30,000 though her family says much more than that has disappeared.

They believe she has probably lost about $90,000 from her association with a 60-year-old invalid beneficiary who seemed to be friendly when they first met at a block of flats they shared.

Whitehead denied the charges but decided to plead guilty during his trial in January. He pleaded guilty when the woman he abused gave her evidence "magnificently" to establish a compelling case against him, said Judge Paul Kellar.

Jailing Whitehead today, Judge Kellar said there had been "nasty, prolonged assaults on a vulnerable victim".


The family were at the court with the victim and were pleased with the sentence.

"We heard he might have got home detention, but the judge has got it right," said the woman's younger sister.

She had ended the abuse when she saw her sister at the Richmond Club and almost failed to recognise her because she had lost so much weight and was so injured. The woman's arm was so damaged she could not hold her fork to eat the meal that night.

During the months of abuse the woman had phoned the family to tell them they were interfering and they should "butt out". Whitehead had got her to make the call.

But when the woman was seen by the family she was taken straight to the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital and began a total of seven weeks in Princess Margaret Hospital and Burwood for her injuries, cellulitis, and an abscess on her knee.

The woman was described as naive and trusting. She met Whitehead in 2009 when they lived in flats in St Albans and he befriended her.

He helped her pack and move when she sold up and moved to a flat in Fitzgerald Avenue, and he took some of the property she no longer needed to the City Mission. At that stage, she had about $100,000.

They met again in 2011 when he visited her home and took her out.

She allowed $30,000 to be transferred from her bank account to pay for an Australia trip for herself, and Whitehead, and a friend. The trip never happened and the money was never returned.

Later, she moved into a flat with Whitehead and a friend, and that was where the abuse took place between October 2011 and June 2012. Whitehead's brutal treatment included:

- Yelling and abusing the woman.

- Throwing her across the room several times.

- Lying or sitting on her.

- Twisting her arm, pinching her cheeks.

- Twisting and squeezing her ear so badly she now has a cauliflower ear and has trouble keeping a hearing aid in place.

- She had hair loss because he had pulled her hair.

- The family says he also tried to gouge her eyes.

When she went to the Richmond Club one evening, her sister hardly recognised her because her weight had dropped from a slight 58kg, to 40kg. She had bruising on her face and body from slaps, hair loss, and damage to her shoulder and wrist.

After her hospital treatment, she says she is now living in a "lovely" rest home and has her family back supporting her. All of her money has gone.

Judge Kellar said it was deplorable offending. He noted that Whitehead continued to deny it, or minimise it, in his pre-sentence interview with probation.

He did not believe that Whitehead's offer of reparation at $50 a week was realistic and the family now accepted the money was lost.

Whitehead's offending had been premeditated, deliberate, cynical, and persistent.

"This is one of the worst cases of its kind," said the judge.

"I'm very lucky to be alive," said the woman.

The Press